Brains at Work

Illustration of brain in head


The human brain operates similarly, whether active or at rest, according to Michael Cole, a neuroscientist and an assistant professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University–Newark. It’s a discovery that could have implications for discovering the causes of schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Evidently, the human brain operates much the same whether active or at rest, according to Michael Cole, a neuroscientist and an assistant professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University–Newark. It’s a finding that could provide a better understanding of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental-health conditions that afflict an estimated 13.6 million Americans. Writing in the journal Neuron, Cole claims that the brain architecture of a person who is at rest basically functions the same as that of a person performing different tasks. The discovery is important in studying mental illness because it is easier to analyze a brain at rest, says Cole, who made the discovery using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Scientists can now better pinpoint their search for causes of mental illness, one being, according to Cole, the prefrontal cortex. It’s a portion of the brain involved in high-level thinking as well as remembering what a person’s goal is and the task being performed. Cole says it would be useful to explore whether connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain is altered—while it’s at rest—in people with severe mental illness. “And then we can finally say something fundamental about what’s different about the brain’s functional network in schizophrenia and other conditions,” he says.
— Rob Forman

Disappointing News in the Cancer Fight

A popular hormonal therapy when used alone to fight prostate cancer, which affects one in six men, does not improve the quality of life of the patient or fight the disease effectively. That’s the finding of Grace Lu-Yao, a cancer epidemiologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who led a study of more than 66,000 patients. Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) blocks male hormones associated with the growth of prostate cancer, and it is often used for older cancer patients who are too weak for surgery and seek an alternative to radiation. The study revealed that subjects who skipped the surgery and used ADT as their primary treatment did not outlive patients who had not received treatment.

Lu-Yao points out that although previous research had demonstrated that ADT is appropriate for high-risk patients when combined with other treatments, its sole use, especially in an older population, should be carefully considered because of the potential side effects of osteoporosis, diabetes, and decreased muscle tone. The data included only men 66 and older; the results could differ for younger men.
— Michele Fisher

Checking In on Check-Ups

Regular check-ups and screenings are among the best ways to stay healthy and catch potential health problems before they become serious. But preventive care rates are low among Hispanic women living in Camden, according to studies by two Rutgers University–Camden nursing professors, who are shedding light on the health care needs of Hispanic women in low-income urban areas.

“Preventive care is not a priority for many of these women,” says Bonnie Jerome-D’Emilia, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. “They tend not to seek health care unless they are sick. Their main concern is taking care of their family. A lack of health insurance or access to affordable care puts them at risk for delays in receiving their own health care.”

Of the 66 Hispanic women who took part in the survey, 41 percent said they were in fair to poor health, and less than half had some sort of health insurance, relying on the emergency room as their source of care. According to Jerome-D’Emilia, language barriers, fear of discrimination, and lack of trust contribute to the lack of health insurance and inequities in access to health services.

Another Rutgers report confirmed that low incomes play a big hand in residents’ using emergency rooms as their primary health care service. According to Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, household income is the most important factor in whether a community has high or low rates of avoidable hospital visits, conditions that could be better managed in a doctor’s office or other health care settings if treated at an early stage.

In analyzing data in 13 low-income communities in New Jersey, Rutgers researchers found that as per capita income rises, the number of patients who seek medical care in the hospital falls dramatically. However, hospital systems in some low-income areas perform better than expected, explained, in part, by better access to primary care doctors. The report, funded by the Nicholson Foundation to improve the quality and afford­ability of health care in New Jersey’s underserved communities, can help policymakers and health care providers design strategies to limit avoidable hospitalizations.
— E.J. Miranda