Health Flash

Health Flash: 4.26.17

» new hope for pain
An opioid-free option for back pain at Washington University is offering hope for patients worried about highly addictive prescription painkillers. High-frequency spinal cord stimulation at the Pain Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital can effectively mask the perception of pain and, according to Dr. Michael Bottros, assistant professor of anesthesiology and director of acute pain service, it can reduce levels of pain as much as 80 percent. The FDA approved the devices—which are inserted into the back via a minimally invasive procedure—in 2015, and most insurance plans cover the treatment. “Opioids can help some people temporarily, and physical therapy also helps, but these new-generation stimulators fill an important niche,” Bottros says. As many as one in three Americans suffers from low back pain, making its economic impact greater than that of heart disease and cancer combined.

» the gut-brain axis
An engineer in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University is working to create a probiotic that could counteract the negative health effects of adrenalin rushes. Tae Seok Moon received his $500,000, three-year grant from the Office of Naval Research’s 2017 Young Investigator Program to engineer bacteria that would regulate neurotransmitters in the brain and gut. While these surges of neurotransmitters are important (like fight or flight), prolonged high levels like those suffered in the military can cause long-term health problems, including anxiety and susceptibility to infection. “We tend to think the gut and brain are separate, but recently, more researchers think they are connected through the microbiota gut-brain axis,” Moon says. The Young Investigator Program is one of the most selective scientific research advancement programs for investigators whose work shows promise in supporting the Department of Defense. Moon was one of 33 grant recipients.

» uti news
In young, sexually active women, about 80 percent of UTIs (urinary tract infections) are caused by E.coli, and although conventional thinking holds that recurrence occurs when E.coli is reintroduced into the tract during intercourse, new research suggests something else. “We have found that a particular vaginal bacterium, Gardnerella vaginalis, did not cause infection during exposure to the urinary tract, but it damaged the cells on the surface of the bladder and caused E.coli from a previous UTI to start multiplying, leading to another bout of disease,” says Amanda Lewis, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine. UTIs most often occur when bacteria living in the bowel make their way into the urinary tract. Infections commonly develop in the bladder, but can occur anywhere along the urinary tract. In rare cases (1 percent), a bladder infection spreads to the kidneys and can be fatal.

» missing the mark
New research led by Washington University School of Medicine shows that an influential 2003 study about the interaction of genes, environment and depression may have missed the mark. The study indicated that people with a particular variant of the serotonin transporter gene were not as well-equipped to deal with stressful life events and more likely to develop depression when suffering from significant stress. But the new study, which reconsidered data gathered from 40,000 people since 2003, finds that the previously reported connection between the serotonin gene, stress and depression wasn’t clear cut. “It was a reasonable hypothesis,” says senior investigator Dr. Laura Jean Bierut. “While we still know that stress is related to depression, and genetics is related to depression, we now know this particular gene is not.”