Research Roundup for September: Lab on a Chip for Liver Disease, New Insights in Diabetes and Cystic Fibrosis

Research Roundup is a monthly column summarizing recent research advances from investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Lab on a Chip Could Solve the Mysteries of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)—the accumulation of liver fat in people who drink little or no alcohol, affects 30-40 percent of adults in the United States, and there are no known treatments. Over time, the accumulation of fat can cause chronic liver problems such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a “lab on a chip” that can model different severity levels of NALFD using one sample of tissue. The chip will help researchers learn more about the causes of the disease and test new treatments.

The study was led by Beyza Bulutoglu Baykara, PhD, and O. Berk Usta, PhD, from the Center for Engineering in Medicine.

Diabetes Treatment Target Goals are Flatlined Despite New Drugs and Efforts to Extend Care

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, but the rate of individuals achieving treatment targets for the disease has not improved since 2005.

A Mass General research team used data from Centers for Disease Control to analyze diabetes care from diagnosis to achievement of treatment targets

They found less than 25% of Americans achieved their treatment targets by controlling their blood sugar, blood pressure and not smoking tobacco.

The results demonstrate the need to develop new strategies for improving care and reducing barriers to treatment such as a lack of health insurance and the high cost of drugs, the researchers say.

The study was led by Pooyan Kazemian, PhD, of the Medical Practice Evaluation Center and Deborah J. Wexler, MD, MSc, of the Diabetes Unit

Imaging Tool Provides an Unprecedented Look at Cell Functioning in Cystic Fibrosis Patients

A groundbreaking new imaging tool developed by Mass General researchers has made it possible, for the first time, to observe differences in the nasal passages of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients at a cellular level.

The imaging tool, a catheter 2mm in size, uses a technology called optical coherence tomography to show images at a resolution of 1 micrometer—a 50th the size of a single human hair and can be administered to patients without sedation.

A hallmark symptom of CF is the inability to effectively process mucus through the body. Using this tool, researchers found that the mucus of CF patients was dehydrated, causing it to move more slowly and impacting the speed of the cilia (the brushlike structures on airway cells that transport mucus).

The team also found that the mucus of CF patients contained more inflammatory cells and discovered patches of airway that had been completely eroded away.

The tool can be used to learn more about how CF affects the airway cells and to gauge the effectiveness of new treatments.

The study was co-led by Guillermo (Gary) Tearney, MD, PhD, an investigator in Wellman Center for Photomedicine and the inaugural Remondi Family MGH Research Institute Chair.

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