August 7, 2009
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Gut Check I: A novel function for the gut hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) was discovered by Tony Lam’s research team at the Toronto General Research Institute and made the cover story in Cell Metabolism this week. Activation of the CCK hormone sends a signal to the brain and then to the liver to trigger lower sugar production. However, resistance to CCK occurs following high-fat feeding and corresponds to elevated blood sugar levels. This work follows a series of ground-breaking discoveries by Tony Lam’s group over the last few years identifying a novel gut-brain-liver neuronal circuitry regulating glucose production, which presents an alternate approach to combating obesity and diabetes.
Gut Check II: There are trillions of friendly bacteria in our lower intestines that play an important role in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system. Our innate immune system, which includes Toll-like receptor signaling, detects and keeps these microbes compartmentalized in the gut. But what would happen if this innate immune system is compromised? A study published in this week’s issue of Science by Dr. AJ Macpherson at McMaster University used a mouse model deficient in innate immune responses (i.e. lacking Toll-like receptors) to demonstrate that intestinal bacteria escapees into the body trigger a cooperative response from the adaptive immune system (e.g. antibodies) to compensate and maintain the host-bacteria mutualism.
My Space – for Stem Cells: Stem cells need their personal space too. Some important signaling pathways are regulated by the size of the colony and niche and can influence stem cell fate. Peter Zandstra’s Stem Cell Bioengineering Lab at the University of Toronto completed an intricate study that defined the spatial parameters of the stem cell microenvironment and hinted that these factors should be considered when planning experiments and interpreting results.
Muscle wasting in Cystic Fibrosis: Patients with Cystic Fibrosis usually experience muscle atrophy and it was previously thought to be a secondary effect of the disease. New evidence presented in this PLoS – Genetics article by Dr. Basil Petrof’s group at McGill University Health Centre shows that muscle loss may be predisposed, a direct symptom of mutations in the CFTR gene in muscle cells. In addition to abnormal calcium levels, CFTR-deficient muscle cells exhibit an elevated inflammatory response and upregulation of genes associated with protein degradation or muscle atrophy. These results have implications for current treatments to more aggressively control inflammation and target calcium homeostasis.
July 10, 2009
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New data yesterday from a home telehealth monitoring program developed by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute claims a whopping 54% cut in hospital readmission for heart failure patients. Readmission rates dropped to under 15% for patients on the program, which includes daily vitals monitoring and immediate contact if anything seems amiss. UOHI says they realize up to $20,000 in savings for each patient safely diverted.
Of course, any time you create electronic medical records, you create privacy risks, as this week’s fiasco in Alberta shows. Over 11,000 patients were notified of a privacy breach after a virus infected over 100 Alberta Health Service computers. A follow-up CBC story quotes a computer security expert who is appalled (the virus is 7 years old).
If you still want to hop on the electronic medical record bandwagon, McGill University Health Centre is collaborating with Medical.MD to promote a 300-subscriber beta test (first-come, first served) for Medical.MD’s web-based personal health records management tool — MedforYou. Medical.MD says the service will be very user-friendly and will include information on allergies, procedures, providers and medications as well as a journaling function.