Glowing particles in the blood may help diagnose and monitor brain cancer

Brain cancer can be especially difficult to diagnose and monitor after treatment because methods such as tissue biopsies or radiation can injure the brain.

In a recent study, MGH researchers demonstrated a promising new strategy for diagnosing and monitoring brain cancer by using the substance patients drink before surgery that makes tumor cells fluorescent.

Because all cells release particles – called extracellular vesicles (EVs) – into the bloodstream, the researchers wondered if the EVs from tumor cells in the blood of brain cancer patients might turn pink just as the tumor cells do.

In tests of mouse models, the team found that mice with brain tumors had fluorescent EVs in their blood, while the EVs in mice without cancer did not.

The team then collected blood samples from brain tumor patients before and after drinking the imaging agent, both before and after surgery. They found that patients with larger tumors had a significantly higher number of fluorescent EVs in their blood.

“This confirms that what we see in the blood is directly correlated to the tumor tissue, and it is telling us about their tumor size,” said Bob Carter, MD, PhD, chief of Neurosurgery, and co-senior author of the study along with Leonora Balaj, PhD, of Neurosurgery. Pamela Jones, MD, also of Neurosurgery, was the lead author of the study.

Study pinpoints possible cause of noise-related blood vessel damage, heart disease

Long-term exposure to environmental noise – such as that created by planes, trains and automobiles – has been linked to adverse health effects, including a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Researchers have identified a potential mechanism through which this noise leads to inflammation, blood vessel damage and heart disease.

In a five-year study of 500 adults, the team found that higher noise levels result in an increase in activity in stress-related centers of the brain such as the amygdala, which in turn causes inflammation in the arteries – an early hallmark of cardiovascular disease.

Of the 40 subjects (8 percent) of participants who experienced a major cardiovascular event during the study period, the team found that each five-decibel increase in environmental noise was associated with a 34 percent increase in risk.

The study was led by Michael Osborne, MD, and Ahmed Tawakol, MD, both of the Cardiac Imaging Research Center and Division of Cardiology.

Successful alcohol, drug recovery hampered by discrimination

Even after resolving a problem with drugs or alcohol, adults in recovery report facing discrimination – such as assumptions they will eventually relapse, feeling like they are held to a higher standard than others, unfair treatment by police and difficulty finding employment.

The results come from a nationally representative survey of 2002 adults in recovery.

While previous studies of people with substance abuse disorder found evidence of discrimination when they are symptomatic or incarcerated, this is believed to be the first study to look at discrimination experienced by those who report they have resolved a problem and are in recovery.

The study was conducted by Corrie Vislant, PhD; Lauren Hoffman, PhD; and John Kelly, PhD, all from the MGH Recovery Research Institute.