Research at the Mass General is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units and is conducted with the support and guidance of the Mass General Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events.

Chronic health problems common after addiction recovery

Investigators from Mass General's Recovery Research Institute found that a third of individuals in recovery from substance use disorder continue to suffer from chronic physical diseases that have been exacerbated by their substance use.

In a study of 2,000 individuals in recovery from drug or alcohol use disorders, researchers found 37 percent had been diagnosed with one or more of nine alcohol- and drug-exacerbated diseases and health conditions: liver disease, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections, cancer, hepatitis C, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes.

The presence of these diseases was shown to be associated with significant reductions in participants’ quality of life, and all are known to reduce life expectancy.

“Earlier and more assertive intervention is needed for individuals with alcohol and other drug problems to help prevent these other diseases,” says David Eddie, PhD, the lead author of the study. “In addition, addiction treatment needs to be more seamlessly integrated with primary health care, and more research is needed to explore the complex relationships between alcohol and other drug use and physical disease.”

Oxytocin weakens the brain’s reward signals for food

Previous research studies have shown that oxytocin – a naturally occurring hormone that is known to promote bonding – acts on brain pathways related to eating behavior and may be a promising treatment for obesity. But how exactly does it work?

Researchers from Mass General's Department of Endocrinology found that oxytocin reduces the communication between brain areas involved in the cognitive, sensory and emotional processing of food cues that people with obesity demonstrate when they look at high-calorie foods.

“Knowing how the drug exerts its effects is a critical step toward establishing oxytocin as a drug treatment for overeating and obesity,” says the study’s lead investigator, Liya Kerem, MD, MSc, who presented study results at a recent Endocrine Society meeting.

Older women benefit significantly when screened with 3D mammography

Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer among women in the United States.

In a new study, Mass General researchers sought to learn more about the performance of 2D and 3D mammography in older women (mean age of 72 years). They compared screening mammograms from more than 15,000 women who underwent 2D mammography with those of more than 20,000 women who underwent 3D screening.

Both approaches were highly effective at detecting cancer, but 3D mammography had some advantages over the 2D approach, including a reduction in false-positive examinations. 3D screenings also had a higher positive predictive value – the probability that women with a positive screening result will have breast cancer – and higher specificity – the ability to distinguish cancer from benign findings.

“We’ve shown that screening mammography performs well in older women, with high cancer detection rates and low false positives, and that tomosynthesis (3D screening) leads to even better performance than conventional 2D mammography,” said study lead author Manisha Bahl, MD, MPH.