Understanding Sleep Apnea

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 28, 2015

Susan Redline, MD, MPH

Sleep apnea is a common yet serious condition that occurs when the throat collapses repetitively during sleep. When the throat collapses, oxygen levels in the brain drop, and sleep is interrupted.

Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including children. The group of adults who appear to be at greatest risk for sleep apnea are often middle-aged men and individuals who are overweight. Among women, the rates of sleep apnea increase after menopause.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a tremendous amount of research that has studied the links between sleep apnea and a number of health outcomes. There is compelling data that sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by measuring breathing patterns, heart rate, and oxygenation overnight. A sleep study can be performed in a sleep laboratory or at home.

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Understanding Skull Base Surgery for Meningiomas

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 26, 2015

Pre-operative MRI of a meningioma

In observation of Brain Tumor Awareness Month, this post was written by Dr. Tracy Ansay and physician assistant Stanley Mui of the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Ansay provides pre- and post-surgical patient care at our practice in South Weymouth. She also performs surgery at South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth, as well as our main hospital campus in Boston.

Meningiomas are one of the most common brain tumors within the general population. Meningiomas make up about 14 to 19 percent of all brain tumors. They are more common among women and occur with increasing frequency as people get older. Meningiomas are found in about three percent of people over the age of sixty.

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More Precise Diagnosis Leads to More Precise Treatment for Patients with Brain Tumors

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 21, 2015

Members of the brain tumor diagnostic board

The information used in diagnosing a brain tumor takes many forms. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), a patient’s brain tumor tissue undergoes a broad range of diagnostic tests: not only standard pathology exams in which tumor cells are viewed under a microscope, but also next-generation scans looking for mutated genes and misassembled chromosomes, as well as whole-genome searches for extra or missing copies of genes.

Such extensive testing helps pinpoint the exact type and characteristics of a particular tumor. The more specific the diagnosis, the more precise the therapy can be.

But test results are only as valuable as the ability of pathologists and physicians to interpret them. As the diagnosis of brain tumors becomes more complex, DF/BWCC pathologists and cytogeneticists (specialists who focus on chromosome structure) routinely consult one another, compare notes, and present physicians with a unified report on their diagnostic findings.

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Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 19, 2015

Dr. Michael E. Weinblatt

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of chronic arthritis caused by the immune system, affecting 1.3 million Americans. It’s a disease that mainly affects young people, so it typically begins at 20 to 40 years of age – but it can occur at any age. It’s characterized by an inflammatory reaction in the joints, which can lead to joint destruction. However, it also can impact other organs in the body, including the lung and heart.

There is no cure for RA. However, advances in rheumatoid arthritis treatment have led to a remarkable improvement in many patients. As a result, early diagnosis and treatment is critical. Fortunately, there have been exciting advancements in rheumatoid arthritis treatment that have slowed the progression of joint damage.

Michael E. Weinblatt, MD, Co-Director of Clinical Rheumatology in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), discusses rheumatoid arthritis treatment, along with an overview of promising research being conducted at BWH.

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Advancing the Treatment of Malignant Gliomas

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 14, 2015

Gliomas can arise anywhere in the brain.

Malignant gliomas are a set of tumors that can arise anywhere in the brain. Tumor cells divide to create a mass, as well as infiltrate into normal brain tissue. The current standard of treatment for malignant gliomas is surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, often followed by chemotherapy and radiation. There are, however, many new treatment approaches being evaluated for malignant gliomas.

In the following video, Dr. E. Antonio Chiocca, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Institute for the Neurosciences at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, describes a promising new approach called oncolytic virotherapy. This involves the use of common viruses to treat malignant gliomas. Studies of the herpes simplex virus type 1 have shown that the virus invades tumor cells and destroys them, while also stimulating the immune system to create a vaccine-like effect against the tumor.

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Nanomedicine May Help to Prevent Heart Attacks

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 12, 2015

The nanoparticle's special surface is designed to stick to fatty deposits.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Columbia University researchers have developed a microscopic medicine that could be used to help prevent heart attacks caused by atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque (mainly cholesterol deposits) within the arteries. This thickening of the artery walls decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to vital body organs and extremities, which can lead to severe cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries continues to be the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., and about one half of all strokes in this country are caused by atherosclerosis.

Through preclinical testing, the BWH and Columbia University researchers aimed to demonstrate that medical treatment of atherosclerosis can be significantly improved by significantly improving the precision of treatment. They designed nanometer-sized, biodegradable “drones” that are programmed to travel to the exact area of the artery where treatment is required, and, once there, deliver a precise dose of a special anti-inflammatory medication that promotes healing. The size of the nanomedicine particles – 1,000 times smaller than the tip of a single human-hair strand – helps them to maneuver to the inside of the plaque. The particles’ special surface, designed to stick to fatty deposits, helps to keep them there.

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New Immunotherapy Vaccines Show Promise in Treating Brain Tumors

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 7, 2015

Dr. David Reardon

Researchers in the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center are now launching attacks on glioblastomas from a new angle – by turning the patient’s immune system against the cancer cells. Where targeted chemotherapy uses drugs to disable proteins that cancer cells need to grow, immunotherapy drugs stimulate the patient’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.

Traditional drugs and even targeted chemotherapy agents have had little success in treating glioblastoma – a very aggressive type of brain tumor.

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Understanding Lupus

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 5, 2015

Lupus is a multisystem disease that can affect the skin, the joints, the heart, lungs, kidneys, and central nervous system.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body makes antibodies that contribute to inflammation, which results in tissue damage. It’s a multisystem disease that can affect the skin, the joints, the heart, lungs, kidneys, and central nervous system.

Lupus can occur throughout anyone’s lifetime. Though it can impact men, lupus is more common in women. Nine times as many women as men will develop lupus. It’s also more common in women of African American, Asian, or Latino backgrounds. Lupus may start during the teen years, with the peak incidence among women in their twenties and thirties. It’s estimated that there are about 500,000 to one million people affected with lupus in the United States.

Bonnie Lee Bermas, MD, Director of the Lupus Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), describes how BWH rheumatologists collaborate with physicians in other disciplines, such as nephrology, cardiology, neurology, and obstetrics, to provide comprehensive, advanced lupus treatment. She also describes BWH research on the causes of lupus and evaluation of new lupus treatments.

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Six Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 4, 2015

Dr. Meryl LeBoff (right) specializes in educating and treating patients with osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones and increases the risk of fractures. Overall, approximately 54 million Americans have low bone mass or osteoporosis.

“Although we have extremely effective therapies to treat osteoporosis, only about 25 percent of patients who experience a fracture are evaluated and treated for their underlying osteoporosis, resulting in a high risk of repeat fractures in the future,” says Dr. Meryl LeBoff, Director of the Skeletal Health, Osteoporosis Center, and Bone Density Unit, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension,  at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “There’s a lot you can do to prevent osteoporosis and new or repeat fractures.”

  • Know your risks – Knowing your risks is the first step to prevention. Risk factors for osteoporosis include increasing age, being female, low bone mass, history of fractures, smoking, certain medical conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis), and the use of prednisone and a number of other medications. At BWH, experts use a tool that combines a patient’s bone density testing results with other key risk factors to determine a patient’s likelihood of a fracture. This score is used to help guide treatment. They also use a special bone density test to identify the presence of vertebral fractures that can indicate the presence of osteoporosis. Read More »

Don’t Leave Women’s Health to Chance

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 30, 2015

Dr. Paula Johnson

The author of today’s post is Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Did you know that, 20 years ago, women and minorities were not routinely included in federally funded clinical trials? That changed in 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed into law the historic NIH Revitalization Act, making inclusion of women in health research a national priority.

Today, we know that women are different from men down to the cellular and molecular level. We see these differences across all organ systems — from our hearts to our joints, lungs, and brains. The Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is dedicated to exploring and discovering why these differences occur, and translating those differences into clinical care. However, roadblocks remain in research and clinical care. Here are just a few examples:

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