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Research notes

Aging in Asia: Lessons to learn from looking East

America and Western Europe may find themselves looking East for innovative ideas about public policies that support older individuals and their family connections. That's the prediction of U-M sociologist Albert Hermalin, an expert on the demography of aging who has spent the last decade conducting research in the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore, funded by the National Institute on Aging.
This house contained the study roos where Sheri Mayrberger of U-M-Flint conducted research on bats. (Photo by Sheri Mayrberger)

"Asia finds itself at an interesting crossroads," says Hermalin, editor of "The Well-Being of the Elderly in Asia: A Four-Country Comparative Study," recently published by University of Michigan Press. By 2030, the continent is projected to have 834 million people older than 60, four times the number in Europe.

At the same time, the region's rapid social and economic transformation is putting pressure on many traditional customs, threatening the well-being of the elderly. "Many Asian leaders are well aware of the problems linked with Western social welfare programs," he says. "They are seeking new solutions that support long-standing cultural traditions while adding new health care and retirement programs."

U-M-Flint faculty member researches bat behavior

Sheri Mayrberger has a strong interest in the life of Eptesicus fuscus. The rest of us may know it better as the big brown bat. Last summer, Mayrberger spent 150 consecutive nights driving 75 miles round-trip to the Cass City area to study a particular bat behavior.

Mayrberger, a laboratory demonstrator and adjunct faculty member for the Biology Department and a graduate student at U-M-Flint, used an infrared camera and a VCR to record every exit and entry flight of each member of a sizable big brown bat maternity colony. Twenty-two bats were fitted with "ball-chain " necklaces bearing unique symbols as a way of identifying each bat and determining whether maternity colony members exit or re-enter the roost in a specific sequence. Mayrberger wanted to find out if the bats exhibited a fixed hierarchy.

While the study found no exact flight sequences, Mayrberger discovered that exit patterns at sunset and return patterns at sunrise were not random and that certain bats occupied specific positions within the sunset and sunrise return flights.

Ocean eruptions: An unrecognized hazard

Methane trapped in undersea sediments could drive potentially dangerous eruptions in the ocean, similar to those that occurred in two African lakes in the 1980s, a U-M scientist's research suggests. Methane released to the atmosphere in this way also could contribute to global warming, says Youxue Zhang, associate professor of geological sciences.

"There is a huge amount of methane stored in marine sediment, in the form of methane gas, methane hydrate (a methane-rich, ice-like substance) and methane dissolved in pore water," says Zhang, whose research is scheduled to be published this month in Geophysical Research Letters. "Methane hydrate is stable at low temperature and high pressure, but certain changes in the ocean environment may cause it to be released." For example, a drop in sea level would result in lower pressure. That would cause methane hydrate to become unstable and dissociate to form methane gas. An increase in ocean bottom temperature could have the same effect. Marine landslides and faulting might also cause methane hydrate grains and methane gas bubbles to be released into seawater.

A pocket of seawater that contains a large number of gas bubbles will rise, because the bubbly water has a lower density than the surrounding water, Zhang explains. As it rises, pressure on the bubbly pocket of water decreases, allowing the bubbles to expand and more to form. With more and bigger bubbles, the pocket of water becomes even less dense, so it's able to shoot toward the surface and erupt explosively, just as champagne spews from a bottle when you pop the cork.

Improvement in heart attack care seen in 33-hospital study

Doctors today know more than ever about what drugs, treatments and lifestyle changes can help heart attack patients live longer and healthier lives after they leave the hospital. But, amazingly enough, as many as half of such patients may not get the prescriptions, tests and counseling they need.

Now, combined results from three studies conducted in 33 Michigan hospitals show it's possible to improve the care provided to heart attack patients after admission. By incorporating a system of reminders, standing orders and checklists into routine care, the study shows, hospitals significantly improved the percentage of patients receiving certain proven treatments and lifestyle counseling. After the system was put in place, the study shows, there were jumps in the use of individual treatments that ranged in size from 5.6 percentage points to 34.8 percentage points.

The new results come from the latest phase of a study sponsored by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and led by members of the Michigan ACC chapter under the direction of researchers at the U-M Cardiovascular Center. The study's partners were the Michigan chapter of the ACC, the Michigan Peer Review Organization, the Greater Detroit Area Health Council, through its Southeast Michigan Quality Forum for Cardiovascular Care, and the Greater Flint Health Coalition. The study, called the ACC AMI GAP for the ACC's Acute Myocardial Infarction Guidelines Applied in Practice, seeks to find ways to help doctors and hospitals deliver the care outlined in heart attack guidelines developed by the ACC and the American Heart Association.The authors of the study were Dr. Kim Eagle, the Albion Walter Hewlett Professor of Internal Medicine and chief of clinical cardiology at the U-M Health System; registered nurse Cecelia Montoye; Anthony DeFranco, Arthur Riba, Robert Parrish, Jessica Paul, Patricia Baker; and Dr. Rajendra Mehta, a clinical assistant professor of cardiology who has helped lead the study.

Drug shown to reduce deaths in heart attack patients

A drug that blocks a heart-harming hormone can reduce the risk of death and hospitalization significantly in heart attack patients who have heart failure, with minimal side effects, a new international study shows.

The life-saving effect began soon after patients began taking the drug, called eplerenone, following their heart attacks. The effect was especially strong if patients also were on other heart medications, according to the results of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 6,632 patients in 37 countries. The findings were published in the April 3 New England Journal of Medicine.

The success of the drug in treating people with heart failure soon after a heart attack comes on top of its recent approval by the Food and Drug Administration to treat high blood pressure. And the study's lead author, U-M cardiologist Dr. Bertram Pitt, predicts that more research on the same hormone pathway could lead to further heart disease advances. Pitt also led a previous study that showed the efficacy of spironolactone, another drug that blocks the same hormone system, in reducing death and hospitalization from severe heart failure.

The study was conducted at 674 centers in 37 countries, including the U-M Cardiovascular Center, where Dr. John Nicklas was the local principal investigator.

It's a nova it's a supernova it's a HYPERNOVA

Two billion years ago, in a far-away galaxy, a giant star exploded, releasing almost unbelievable amounts of energy as it collapsed to a black hole. The light from that explosion finally reached Earth March 29 at 11:37 GMT (6:37 a.m. EST), igniting a frenzy of activity among astronomers worldwide. This phenomenon has been called a hypernova, playing on the name of the supernova events that mark the violent end of massive stars.
This new Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) installation at Siding Spring Observatory, in northern New South Wales, Australia, was among the first to record a hypernova recently. Carl Akerlof, an astrophysicist in the Physics Department, is the leader of ROTSE. (Photo by Andre Phillips, University of New South Wales

"The optical brightness of this gamma ray burst is about 100 times more intense than anything we've ever seen before. It's also much closer to us than all other observed bursts so we can study it in considerably more detail," says Carl Akerlof, an astrophysicist in the Department of Physics. Akerlof is the leader of the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE), an international collaboration of astrophysicists using a network of telescopes specially designed to capture just this sort of event. The collaboration is headquartered at U-M and funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Recently, the ROTSE group commissioned two optical telescopes in Australia and Texas, and the group was waiting for the first opportunities to use the new equipment. The burst was detected promptly by NASA's Earth-orbiting High-Energy Transient Explorer (HETE-2), but human intervention was required to find the exact location. Despite sporadic clouds and rainstorms in Australia, the ROTSE instrument at Siding Spring Observatory in northern New South Wales was able to record the decaying light from the blast. Twelve hours later, the second ROTSE telescope in Fort Davis, Texas,
was picking up the job of monitoring this spectacular explosion. For more information, visit http:///www.rotse.net.

Gene therapy offers hope for gum disease

Researchers at U-M may have discovered how gene therapy can help restore damage caused by advanced periodontal disease, a chronic bacterial infection that destroys the gums and bone supporting the teeth.

"Currently, no therapies exist that can predictably regenerate tooth-supporting structures destroyed due to periodontal disease," says William Giannobile, associate professor of dentistry and lead investigator of a study recently published in the Journal of Periodontology. "This study represents a tissue engineering approach to repair periodontal defects in animals. Human trials will be necessary to determine the feasibility of gene therapy to treat periodontal and other oral diseases."

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque, a sticky colorless film that forms on the teeth. Toxins produced by bacterial plaque irritate the gums and stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and damaged. Gums separate from the teeth and form deepening pockets that become infected. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.

Researchers inserted a gene called bone morphogenetic protein that encodes a bone-stimulating factor into an inactivated virus. The virus then transferred the genes into grown rat skin cells. Genetically engineered cells were transplanted into large periodontal bone defects surrounding the teeth, which regenerated tooth-supporting structures, such as the jawbone, periodontal ligament and the protective coating on the teeth called cementum.

Firms willing to pay taxes on fraudulent earnings to avoid suspicion

Companies that commit accounting fraud are willing to pay millions of dollars in additional income taxes on phony earnings to continue the charade, says a Business School researcher.

In a new study that examines the tax consequences of allegedly fraudulent earnings overstatements, Michelle Hanlon of the Business School and colleagues Merle Erickson of the University of Chicago and Edward Maydew of the University of North Carolina found that, on average, firms sacrifice 11 cents in additional income taxes per dollar of inflated pre-tax earnings.

"One might expect that firms willing to engage in earnings manipulation would also be willing to simultaneously avoid reporting the income on their tax returns," says Hanlon, assistant professor of accounting. "However, firms may willingly pay taxes on bogus earnings to avoid raising the suspicion of savvy investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Internal Revenue Service. If firms expend cash to pay taxes on overstated earnings, that suggests that managers believe that inflated accounting earnings are more valuable than the cash transferred to the government."

Prenatal heart defect diagnosis does not always predict survival of newborns

New research from U-M pediatric cardiologists who studied the survival rate of fetuses diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a condition where the left ventricle of the heart is too small to help pump blood through the body, found that in utero diagnosis does not always help a baby's survival.

The study revealed that even with a prenatal diagnosis of HLHS, infants with one or more risk factors that often are not detectable before birth, such as low birth weight, had a significantly lower chance for survival. But the researchers note that in utero diagnosis has meant that many more pregnant women referred to specialty care centers for treatment before risk factors can be identified, which results in a higher risk group of patients.

Those findings, from the U-M Congenital Heart Center's Prenatal Cardiology Clinic at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, were presented last week at the 52nd annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago. Dr. Carlen Gomez, director of the Prenatal Cardiology Clinic, was the study's lead investigator; Dr. Cyrus Samai, a pediatric cardiology fellow in the Department of Pediatric and Communicable Diseases, was a co-investigator; and others on the study team from the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases were Dr. Mark Russell, Dr. David Parra and Dr. Achiau Ludomirsky.
—Krista Hopson, UMHS Public Relations

Racial differences found in chronic pain experience, pain treatment

African Americans may miss out disproportionately on effective treatment for their chronic pain, and as a result suffer outsize effects on their ability to work, play and enjoy life, a study finds.

Research results on pain differences between Blacks and whites show that, for example, Black women are much more likely than white women to have severe pain and related mental health effects when they finally seek treatment from pain specialists. Blacks also had more barriers to getting effective pain care. Those findings, from pain researchers at U-M who are among the first to study racial disparities in chronic pain and its treatment, were presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.

The lead researcher was Dr. Carmen Green, an anesthesiologist and assistant professor in the U-M Health System's Department of Anesthesiology and a pain specialist at U-M's Multidisciplinary Pain Center. The study team also includes Tamara Baker, a postdoctoral research fellow in anesthesiology and the U-M Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health; research associates Khady Ndao-Brumblay and Andrew Nagrant; and research assistant Tamika Washington.

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