Vital Record » Public Health https://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:03:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Texas A&M study transforms traditional perceptions of physical activity https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-study-transforms-traditional-perceptions-of-physical-activity https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-study-transforms-traditional-perceptions-of-physical-activity#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:36:27 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20820 Geocaching incorporates the adventure of a real-life treasure hunt with gaming features. The research study “Geocaching for Exercise and Activity Research (GEAR)” focuses on this and has shown that it can greatly increase physical activity. ]]>
The study included individuals 18- to 77-years old and showed nontraditional methods of physical activity were effective.

The study included individuals 18- to 77-years old and showed nontraditional methods of physical activity were effective.

The Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health finds evidence that fun can lead to physical activity. A CCHD research study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the health benefits of exergames, or activities that engage users in physical activity with the added fun factor of game play.

The research study “Geocaching for Exercise and Activity Research (GEAR)” focused on a particular exergame called geocaching. Geocaching incorporates the adventure of a real-life treasure hunt with gaming features such as a reward system, online avatars, and skill-based categories. As part of GEAR, 1,000 people across the United States tracked their physical activity levels while geocaching during a 12-month period. Researches collected data from individuals ranging in age from 18- to 77-years old through online surveys and analyzed the aggregated responses to understand how physical activity and geocaching relate.

Whitney Garney, M.P.H.

Whitney Garney, M.P.H.

One of the study’s principal investigators, Whitney Garney, M.P.H., states that throughout the 12-month study, “the average GEAR participant walked 10 miles per month while geocaching alone, walking approximately 1-½ miles on each geocaching trip and averaging 72 geocaching trips a year.”

This means that participants averaged 134 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which is just under the CDC’s weekly recommendation of 150 minutes.

Additionally, participants in the study reported improved health status and fewer days of poor mental health and physical health than a comparative sample.

Study findings are significant in that they support nontraditional methods of physical activity as an effective component of a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages.

“GEAR results have important implications for how and why people are physically active,” says Garney. “Geocaching is one option for people to have fun and be physically active at the same time without going to the gym and may be just what America needs to get moving.”

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Taylor awarded 2014 American STD Association Developmental Award https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=taylor-awarded-2014-american-std-association-developmental-award https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=taylor-awarded-2014-american-std-association-developmental-award#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:57:42 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20803 Brandie Taylor, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, was recently awarded the 2014 American Sexually Transmitted Disease Association (ASTDA) Developmental Award. The ASTDA Developmental Award is designed to encourage new investigators to pursue careers in STD research. ]]>
Dr. Brandie Taylor

Brandie Taylor, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Brandie Taylor, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, was recently awarded the 2014 American Sexually Transmitted Disease Association (ASTDA) Developmental Award. The ASTDA Developmental Award is designed to encourage new investigators to pursue careers in STD research.

This two-year award will provide support related to Taylor’s research proposal entitled, “Host Genetic Susceptibility to Chlamydia-Associated Reproductive Morbidity,” where she will utilize genomic sequencing to identify new and rare host genetic markers associated with infertility secondary to Chlamydia trachomatis (chlamydia) genital tract infection. Findings from this initial proposal will provide data for continued research in a larger study designed to build prediction models.

Chlamydia remains the most common bacterial STD in the United States despite aggressive efforts to reduce rates of infection. In some women chlamydia causes permanent damage to the reproductive organs leading to infertility.

“My goal is to contribute to a better understanding of chlamydia and identify genetic and biological markers that can be used to predict risk of reproductive complications following infection,” said Taylor.

“Our previous work has shown that host genetics may contribute to why some women develop infertility following chlamydia and some women do not. This award will provide research support and allow me to obtain the training and practical experiences necessary to better understand the host genetic contribution to infertility following chlamydial genital tract infection.”

Host genetics can be used to identify high risk groups of women who would benefit most from modifying current chlamydial control regimens. This may include increasing the frequency of testing for C. trachomatis so that prompt and proper treatment can be initiated. As an inflammatory response is induced shorty after chlamydial infection, it is very important that women receive prompt treatment to reduce the duration of infection to prevent long-term complications including infertility.

Taylor is the current Director of the Reproductive and Child Health Program at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Her research interests include reproductive and perinatal epidemiology and the role of the host genetics and the immune system in reproductive and pregnancy complications.

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Tekwe develops new model examining impact of radiation dose on lipid measures among Japanese atomic bomb survivors https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=tekwe-develops-new-model-examining-impact-of-radiation-dose-on-lipid-measures-among-japanese-atomic-bomb-survivors https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=tekwe-develops-new-model-examining-impact-of-radiation-dose-on-lipid-measures-among-japanese-atomic-bomb-survivors#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 21:09:43 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20778 Carmen D. Tekwe, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published a study detailing the development of a new statistical model in Statistics in Medicine]]>
Tekwe Image

Carmen D. Tekwe, Ph.D.

A person’s overall physical health and well being is often dictated more so by the experiences of their past, than by their present. The health behavior choices we make and exposures we suffer can have a significant impact on our health later in life.

Carmen D. Tekwe, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published a study detailing the development of a new statistical model in Statistics in Medicine. Using this model, she examined the effects of radiation exposure on cardio-metabolic risk factors associated with dyslipidemia, an abnormal amount of lipids (e.g. cholesterol and/or fat) in the blood. The study was based on data from the Adult Health Study cohort of survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

With this study, entitled “Multiple indicators, multiple causes measurement error (MIMIC ME) models,” Tekwe and her co-authors participated in an international collaboration of Japanese and American scientists and statisticians to extend a standard latent variable model known as the MIMIC model to study the effects of true radiation dose at exposure on triglyceride, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Their MIMIC ME model allowed adjustment for measurement error associated with the manner in which the amount of radiation exposure was determined.

“The calculations used to estimate the exact amount of radiation doses received by the survivors was based primarily on self-reported measures of distance and shielding at the time of exposure,” said Tekwe. “Therefore, they are prone to classical measurement error.”

In addition to typical measurement errors, this study adjusted for a second source of error known as Berkson error. This error occurred primarily due to all individuals sharing a common characteristic (i.e., close proximity) being assigned the radiation dose calculated for a hypothetical representative of their group, rather than individually estimated doses.

As a result, this study was the first to assess the impact of radiation dose on dyslipidemia among the survivors adjusting for both types of errors. Results indicated that radiation exposure increases cardio-metabolic risk.

According to Tekwe, failure to properly account for measurement error(s) in assessing the impact of an exposure agent on various health outcomes such as dyslipidemia or cancer can lead to either under- or over-estimation of true effects, depending on the presence or absence of measurement error. MIMIC ME model analysis provides corrections for both types of errors and thus, an unbiased estimate of the effect of exposure.
“In order to make recommendations to appropriate regulatory or public health agencies on the effects of exposure to a particular environmental agent on the public, it is essential that the exposure to the environmental agent be approximated as reliably as possible and that analysis methods such as the MIMIC ME model be employed when errors remain. ”

This method has the potential to be applied to a wide array of fields such as cancer prevention, tobacco exposure, and behavioral health patterns research. With the help of this model researchers will not only improve study protocol and reliability, but also enhance the ability to accurately target preventative patient care.

Additional authors are Dr. Randy Carter of the University of Buffalo in New York, Dr. Harry Cullings of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan, and Dr. Raymond Carroll of Texas A&M University.

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Sharma reviews methods to breakdown contaminates in water https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=sharma-reviews-methods-to-breakdown-contaminates-in-water-2 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=sharma-reviews-methods-to-breakdown-contaminates-in-water-2#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:57:41 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20776 Virender K. Sharma, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published a review of different methods of transforming sucralose in water]]>
Sharma in Lab

Virender K. Sharma, Ph.D.

Sugar free products have revolutionized the food industry and provided sugary tasting options for those suffering from diabetes and other illnesses. However, many sugar free products are often not digestible by our bodies, resulting in their ending up in wastewater and ultimately in the aquatic environment.

Sucralose, which is most often found under the Splenda brand name, is one such artificial sweetener that remains in the water cycle for more than a year. The use of sucralose is estimated to continue to increase in the coming years, and as a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has flagged it as an emerging environmental contaminant.

Virender K. Sharma, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, reviewed different methods of transforming sucralose in water. His review was recently published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

In “Oxidation of Artifical Sweetener Sucralose by Advanced Oxidation Processes: A Review,” Sharma indicates that of all the water purifying procedures reviewed, the only one that showed success was an advanced oxidation system that generates hydroxyl radicals using chemical and electrochemical approaches.

Using the chemical approach, hydroxyl radicals are produced in the water contaminated with sucralose with the aid of ozone, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen, and ultraviolet light or catalysts (for example titanium dioxide). In an electrochemical approach, electrodes immersed in contaminated water at a certain voltage are able to generate hydroxyl radicals. In both cases, sucralose rapidly degraded when hydroxyl radicals were introduced.

“These processes seem to be economical; however, a feasibility study on a large scale must be performed to realize the full potential of this approach.”

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Texas A&M provides rapid response to solve real-world healthcare industry challenges https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-provides-rapid-response-to-solve-real-world-healthcare-industry-challenges https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-provides-rapid-response-to-solve-real-world-healthcare-industry-challenges#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 19:48:31 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20689 The Center for Health Organization Transformation takes on immediate challenges plaguing health care providers in the industry through a collaborative research process. ]]>
CHOT address healthcare needs

The Center for Health Organization Transformation takes on research projects requested by industry leaders that are plaguing the healthcare.

With expertise from health management researchers to systems engineering and information systems management, the Center for Health Organization Transformation (CHOT) takes on immediate challenges plaguing health care providers in the industry through a collaborative research process. What would usually require a contract between individual researchers and years of research before producing results, is instead carried out using a cooperative model that presents results from across multiple areas of study and delivers constant access to project and research updates. The center, which is part of Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, conducts research side-by-side with industry experts across the nation. In fact, healthcare industry leaders submit the research project ideas.

Texas A&M is the lead university of CHOT with partner sites at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Penn State University. But the true success of CHOT is its membership – 16 industry members, including solution providers such as Verizon and Siemens and healthcare leaders like Texas Children’s Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The industry members each pitch one or two industry challenges that they want to investigate with CHOT’s help. CHOT ranks and selects the preferred projects and conducts the research with its university partners. The group is at the forefront of changing healthcare procedures and care processes as it takes on the latest innovations in data management, clinical practices, emergency processes, innovations in response to the Affordable Care Act, and projects such as the consequences of sleep disruption among infants in neo-natal intensive care units.

One of CHOT’s most successful research relationships is with the Studer Group, an organization that implements clinical protocol tools and best practices in efficiency and quality care at numerous hospitals throughout the U.S. CHOT helped evaluate one of Studer’s processes for bedside shift change. For instance, nurses use a standardized checklist during their shift change so the staff coming on duty and the patient is up to date on the patient’s medical needs. Nurses complete the bedside shift change process in front of the patient to engage them in the process, allowing the hospital to improve care coordination and improve the patients’ ability to handle their medical care after discharge. CHOT evaluated this bedside shift reporting process by studying the nurses’ understanding of the process and evaluating data from hospital patient satisfaction results. A majority of studies cited positive, beneficial results such as increased patient safety, reduction in medical errors, increased nurse job satisfaction and cost-containment

One of the Center’s newest projects involves working with the American Society for Anesthesiologists to define best practices before, during, and after surgery.

“We are trying to determine what needs to be done before, during, and after various types of surgeries to minimize surgical errors and patient complications, and to reduce cost of surgery at the same time,” said Bita Kash, Ph.D., M.B.A., FACHE, newly appointed CHOT Director and Principal Investigator for the project. “By understanding the complete perioperative process and the role of the anesthesiologist in the process, we are at the forefront to determine the future of modern evidence-based surgical procedures and processes. This new knowledge will impact how we train anesthesiologists in the future.”

Projects such as the one focused on anesthesiologists will fulfill the center’s vision of becoming nationally transforming the healthcare industry. “The faculty and students from these great universities look forward to developing even stronger working relationships with visionary health systems who share a commitment to transformation in health care,” said former director and Regents Professor Dr. Larry Gamm, Ph.D. “All of us seek to ensure that the center adds value for all participants in taking health services research and education to the next level.”

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Behavioral health interventions: The importance of communication and new technology https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=behavioral-health-interventions-the-importance-of-communication-and-new-technology https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=behavioral-health-interventions-the-importance-of-communication-and-new-technology#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 19:16:11 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20642 As we move toward a more patient-centered form of health care and physicians begin to focus more on specific patient behaviors it has become all the more evident that patient lifestyle choices contribute significantly to our overall health. ]]>
Behavioral Health Feature

Recent studies show mobile devices as a positive means of collecting information from patients and improving communication between provider and patient.

As we move toward a more patient-centered form of health care, physicians now are beginning to focus more on specific patient behaviors and how their lifestyle contributes to their overall health. This makes transparency and effective communication between patients and physicians an essential component to a doctor’s ability to provide quality care.

“Unfortunately, patients as well as doctors can be leery of discussing particular topics they are either uncomfortable with or that are of a sensitive nature,” says Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “Some topics may even cause patients to become defensive when questioned about them, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, or mental health.”

Ory notes that clinicians are sometimes reluctant to bring up emotional health issues for fear that they won’t have time to respond. In reality, not dealing with such issues is often counterproductive because anxious or depressed patients often have more trouble managing their health conditions and end up taking more of a clinician’s time.

So how do clinicians bring up need-to-alter behaviors in a way that is motivating and non-judgmental?

This is the question behind new research regarding strategies health care providers can implement to encourage open communication and collaboration with patients.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Recent studies have emphasized the use of mobile devices as a means of collecting information from patients. As mobile devices have flooded daily use, they have become increasingly popular as a way to increase patient-physician communication. With the help of new research, these innovative technologies are now being used as a way to collect and analyze patient data securely, define patient goals, create support networks, and monitor health improvement progress.

Recently, Ory, Yan Hong, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and several other researchers at Baylor Scott and White HealthCare published an article online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mhealth and Uhealth on the use of mobile devices by primary care physicians and their patients. This particular study examined the usability of mobile devices to promote healthy behaviors and chronic disease prevention for such health issues as diabetes and obesity.

In “Using the iPod touch for Patient Health Behavior Assessment and Health Promotion in Primary Care,” researchers concluded that patients were able to complete a health behavior assessment from their doctor’s office using the iPod touch with relative ease. In addition, researchers found that when physicians engaged their patients on the report generated by the assessment, patients were much more likely to put into practice the behavioral changes suggested by their physicians than those who did not. This method provided patients with the opportunity to engage with their physician in a one-on-one setting, while receiving individualized healthcare suggestions that facilitate effective behavioral change.

“The vast majority of patients found the device extremely user-friendly,” said Samuel N. Forjuoh, Dr.P.H., M.D., Ph.D., the principal investigator of the project. “In addition, the iPod touch minimizes survey response error, is reliable in eliciting sensitive data in a private and confidential manner, provides easy data storage and transportation, and is a promising device to assist behavioral change within a diverse population of varying age groups, genders, ethnicities, and health status.”

As the ways through which physicians and clinicians practice health care continues to change, knowing a patient’s behavior patterns and emotional state may help to create better informed physicians and allow for more individualized care. Whether through one-on-one discussion or through mobile technology, it is important for health care providers to find ways to help patients address their emotional concerns and lifestyle behaviors that can act as barriers to good health.

 

 

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Ferdinand finds laws restricting texting while driving save lives https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=ferdinand-finds-laws-restricting-texting-while-driving-save-lives https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=ferdinand-finds-laws-restricting-texting-while-driving-save-lives#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:30:17 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20597 Although not all states have laws restricting texting while driving, a recent study by Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, indicates if they did, it would save lives]]>

Texting and Driving Image Although not all states have laws restricting texting while driving, a recent study by Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, indicates if they did, it would save lives.

Ferdinand, who is in the Department of Health Policy and Management, used a panel study design that examined the effects of different types of texting bans on motor vehicular fatalities. She and her co-researchers used the Fatality Analysis Reporting System—a nationwide census providing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Congress, and the public with data regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. A difference-in-differences empirical approach was used to examine the incidence of fatal crashes between 2000 through 2010 in 48 U.S. states with and without texting bans. Age cohorts were constructed to examine the impact of these bans on age-specific traffic fatalities.

Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D.

Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D.

Results indicated that primarily enforced texting bans (i.e., a police officer can stop a driver for texting while driving without having another reason) were significantly associated with a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups. This equates to an average of 19 deaths prevented per year in states with such bans. Further, primarily enforced texting laws that banned only young drivers were the most effective at reducing deaths among the 15-21 year old cohort. Secondarily enforced texting restrictions (i.e., a police officer can only cite a driver for texting after stopping them for some other violation, such as speeding, driving while intoxicated, etc.) were not associated with traffic fatality reductions in any of their analyses.

“Our results indicate that states that have not enacted any primarily enforced texting bans are missing out on opportunities to prevent avoidable roadway deaths,” said Ferdinand.

“Impact of Texting Laws on Motor Vehicular Fatalities in the United States,” was published online in June in the American Journal of Public Health.

Additional authors include Nir Menachemi, Ph.D., M.P.H.; Bisakha Sen, Ph.D., Justin Blackburn, Ph.D., Michael Morrisey, Ph.D., and Leonard Nelson III, J.D., LLM.

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Research to Reality: Researcher identifies effective chemical intervention for liver cancer https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=research-to-reality-researcher-identifies-effective-chemical-intervention-for-liver-cancer https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=research-to-reality-researcher-identifies-effective-chemical-intervention-for-liver-cancer#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 18:35:59 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20580 Natalie Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published findings from a new study using a chemical intervention approach to prevent carcinogen-induced liver cancer. ]]>
Natalie Johnson, Ph.D.

Natalie Johnson, Ph.D.

Every single day people are exposed to harmful environmental stressors that have the ability to damage or alter our body’s natural processes. In many developing countries and low resource populations, people are exposed to even more environmental hazards considering their lack of reliable access to proper nutrition and care.

Environmental and occupational factors play a major role in the health of populations. Due to chronic exposure to high levels of heat or radiation, natural and synthetic chemicals, as well as various food and nutrients we eat every day, these external stressors can cause major health problems including many forms of cancer.

Natalie Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published findings from a new study using a chemical intervention approach to prevent carcinogen-induced liver cancer. This study examined the effectiveness of using a synthetic chemical intervention to prevent carcinogen-induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

“HCC, the most common form of primary liver cancer, is now the second leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide,” said Johnson.

“However, the use of chemical or dietary interventions to block, retard, or reverse carcinogenesis, an approach known as chemoprevention, represents a promising strategy for the reduction HCC.”

HCC is multifactorial, and the major causes include chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C (HBV and HCV) virus, cirrhosis, or exposure to aflatoxin B1 (AFB1). AFB1 is a naturally occurring toxin produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus that often contaminates grains before they are harvested or if they are improperly stored. AFB1 is currently estimated to account for approximately a quarter of all human HCC cases worldwide. Furthermore, co-infection with the hepatitis virus greatly synergizes the risk of developing HCC.

“Most HCC cancers occur in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa due to chronic infection with HBV or HCV and ingestion of AFB1 through mold grains,” said Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, in a perspective published in relation to Johnson’s recent work.

In this study researchers examined the effectiveness of chemoprevention using a synthetic oleanane triterpenoid (CDDO-Im) to protect against AFB1-induced HCC. Using a lifetime cancer bioassay in a rat model, they measured and tracked DNA biomarkers in animals that were exposed to the AFB1 that either did or did not progress to develop HCC.

Findings showed that none of the animals that were treated with the CDDO-Im intervention developed HCC as opposed to the 22 out of 23 animals that were not treated with the intervention that presented with multiple HCC’s.

“The overwhelming positive impact of our chemical intervention on prevention of HCC and survival against a large exposure to AFB1 is unparalleled,” said Johnson.

“The complete risk reduction potential found in this model allows us to probe tenets of importance to the broader discipline of risk assessment.”

Using this complete risk reduction method, Johnson’s findings from this study provide a model for the future development of effective chemopreventive agents. This approach not only serves as the foundation for the development of new strategies of prevention in liver cancers, but could potentially expand our knowledge of carcinogenesis, enhance our ability to develop preventive therapies, and reduce overall cancer mortality around the world.

 

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Predicting Parkinson’s disease: Researcher develops new method for estimating age-of-onset https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=predicting-parkinsons-disease-researcher-develops-new-method-for-estimating-age-of-onset https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=predicting-parkinsons-disease-researcher-develops-new-method-for-estimating-age-of-onset#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 15:53:03 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20564 Tanya P. Garcia, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, completed a new study in which researchers are working to develop a new method by which clinicians can estimate the age-of-onset for Parkinson’s disease (PD) in carriers of the PARK2 gene mutation]]>

Parkinson's Tag Cloud ImageIn today’s world of increased risk for chronic disease, high instances of obesity, and declining health, many people feel that knowledge is power and the key to living a longer and healthier life. Over the years this has given rise to a consumer interest in genetic testing to determine a person’s level of risk for various hereditary disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, different forms of cancer, and even heart disease.

Tanya P. Garcia, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, completed a new study in which researchers are working to develop a new method by which clinicians can estimate the age-of-onset for Parkinson’s disease (PD) in carriers of the PARK2 gene mutation. The results are published in this month’s Annals of Applied Statistics.

PD is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that results in a progressive loss of motor skills. Symptoms include uncontrolled movements, shaking, rigidity, and difficulty walking. Dementia is also a common occurrence for those in the advanced stages of the disease. Although it typically affects the elderly or those after age 50, there are early onset cases that are believed to be hereditary and connected to the presence of the PARK2 gene mutation.

Tanya Garcia, Ph.D.

Tanya Garcia, Ph.D.

“Identifying the predicted age-of-onset for various diseases can play a vital role in the genetic counseling process, as both clinicians and patients use risk estimates to guide their decisions on choices of preventive treatments and planning for the future,” said Garcia.

“For example, individuals with a family history of PD generally stated that if they were found to be a carrier and in their mid-thirties, they would most likely elect to not have children, or would be more inclined to prenatal testing.”

For studies of genetic diseases based on family history, predicting age-of-onset can be challenging. First, the genetic mutation status of many family members is usually unknown since, understandably, not everyone elects to get tested. Secondly, existing methods predict age-of-onset at different ages one-by-one, rather than all together. Predicting onset at each age individually has the tendency to yield invalid estimates.

Garcia and her co-authors developed a new statistical method that quickly predicts valid ages-of-onset for different ages simultaneously. Applying their method to the Consortium on Risk for Early Onset PD (CORE-PD) study, Garcia and co-authors found that individuals with two copies of the PARK2 mutation had a higher risk for early onset of PD than individuals with only one PARK2 mutation. Such results suggest a recessive mode of inheritance for PARK2 gene mutations for early onset PD. In addition, individuals with at least one copy of the PARK2 gene mutation tended to have an increased risk for early onset of PD than the general population who is not at risk.

The findings from this study may suggest that there are other genetic and environmental causes of PD in early onset cases that are different than late onset. Although further research is needed to better understand these differences, with the help of Garcia and these new statistical methods, patients can have a better understanding of PD and more effectively prepare for the future ahead.

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