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Researchers find little association between suicide and hypoxia

Following an extensive analysis of published studies, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that while suicide rates are higher at higher altitudes, they are unlikely caused by hypoxia, (low oxygen) at these elevations.

The study, published in the June edition of the journal High Altitude Medicine & Biology, says suicide victims at high altitudes differ significantly from those at lower elevations in demographics, mental health and suicide-related characteristics.

Ben Honigman, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for clinical outreach at the Altitude Research Center at the CU School of Medicine.
Dr. Ben Honigman, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for clinical outreach at the Altitude Research Center at the CU School of Medicine.

“There other factors, rather than hypoxia, that are more likely and more plausible explanations for high suicide rates at high altitudes,” the study said.

This new research casts doubt on some longstanding theories seeking to connect the physiological effects of living at altitude with higher suicide rates.

“We looked at papers published through 2017,” said the study’s senior author Benjamin Honigman, MD, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for clinical outreach at the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Those that claimed a relationship to altitude and suicide also created a narrative that hypoxia was a significant cause.”

But when Honigman and his colleagues factored in social isolation, rural living, and access to guns into their analysis they arrived at a different conclusion.

“We found that there are higher suicide rates in some high altitude locations, but that the high altitude plays little or no role in suicide,” Honigman said.

Three of the studies reviewed speculated that suicide rates at higher altitudes could be tied to changes shown in mouse and rat brain chemistry related to hypoxia. The theory is that hypoxia causes lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin leading to depression, and increases in dopamine leading to impulsive behavior.

But Honigman said studies on mice showing changes in serotonin and dopamine levels were almost all done at simulated high altitudes of 18,000-25,000 feet where few people actually live, and beyond where any studies of high altitude and suicide have ever been conducted. Moreover, no studies have shown differences in these neurotransmitters in humans at high altitude.

Honigman explains this by saying suicide victims at high and low altitudes differed significantly by race, intoxication, firearms use, depressed moods prior to suicide and other financial and interpersonal problems. He also suggests that serious barriers to accessing mental health resources in crisis situations or low availability of emergency services including resuscitation often exist in these regions which may lead to higher mortality with suicide attempts.

“These issues appear to be more important reasons for differences in suicide rates than physiologic causes like hypoxia,” the study said.

Ultimately, Honigman said, many individual factors must be accounted for when assessing suicide in any setting.

“In this case, we do not believe that hypoxia plays a significant role in suicide,” he said. “Regardless of the cause, clinical professionals at high altitudes should be especially vigilant concerning this public health issue.”

The study’s other co-authors include: Elaine Reno, MD, CU School of Medicine; Talia Brown, MS, PhD, Colorado School of Public Health; Marian Betz, MD, MPH, CU School of Medicine; Michael Allen, MD, CU School of Medicine; Lilian Hoffecker, PhD, MS, MLS, CU Health Sciences Library; Jeremy Reitinger, Altitude Research Center, CU School of Medicine; Robert Roach, PhD, Altitude Research Center, CU School of Medicine.

 

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Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center is a highly visible legacy of longstanding philanthropic partnership

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and UCHealth announced Tuesday the naming of the UCHealth Eye Center program for philanthropist Sue Anschutz-Rodgers, who has made leadership gifts to accelerate innovative research, speed the development of new therapies and devices, and enhance clinical care. 

These tremendous gifts will enable the Eye Center, headquartered in the 135,000-square-foot Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute building at the heart of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, to further expand its work in ocular stem cell research for sight restoration, to retain and recruit top faculty, and to grow its clinical care network throughout Colorado and the region, serving the rapidly increasing demand for top-quality eye care. 

Sue Anschutz-Rodgers with Dr. Naresh Mandava
Sue Anschutz-Rodgers with Dr. Naresh Mandava.

“Sight has always been incredibly important to me,” said Sue Anschutz-Rodgers, “and when I learned that I could eventually lose my eyesight due to macular degeneration, I felt I had to do something to bring the life-changing care I was receiving to future generations. I have 100 percent trust in the care offered there and hope that the research underway today will ultimately lead to a cure.” Anschutz-Rodgers also credits service organization Lions Clubs International for having the vision many years ago to establish eye centers worldwide. 

CU Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald M. Elliman, Jr., said the gift further underscores the impact that Anschutz-Rodgers has had on the campus. “With a long history of gifts supporting cancer research, women’s health, faculty, scholarships and more, Sue has made an immeasurable difference across our campus,” Elliman said. “I can think of no more fitting recognition of her commitment to transforming ophthalmology than to see her name associated with the Eye Center for decades to come.”

World-class eye care, research

 “Sue Anschutz-Rodgers has been making a difference in our community and at our university for a number of years and her generous contribution will have a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of people,” said CU President Bruce D. Benson. “It will significantly advance the stellar work at the Eye Center and continue its momentum toward becoming one of the top eye care, research and training facilities in the world.”

Renowned retinal diseases expert Naresh Mandava, MD, has led the UCHealth Eye Center for nearly 14 years, overseeing its rapid growth and development as one of largest in the country. Mandava is chair of the CU Department of Ophthalmology and holds the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Endowed Chair in Retinal Diseases, established by Sue Anschutz-Rodgers in 2013 in gratitude for the care she received from Mandava and his team. Under his leadership, the center’s physicians and researchers have grown from 55 in 2012 to 82 in 2017. Since then, total patient visits have more than doubled to over 100,000 annually.

Speeding lab-to-clinic therapies

“We are living in an incredible time for vision research and care, and our location on one of the country’s top academic medical campuses means we have the talent, the resources and the networks to do even more,” said Mandava. “This generous investment from Sue Anschutz-Rodgers will ensure our ability to leverage the momentum we’ve built to take new devices and therapies from the lab to the clinic more quickly than ever before, and to preserve and restore sight for people battling a wide range of conditions and diseases.”  

UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital President and CEO Will Cook said the gift will make a measurable difference for patients and the future of ophthalmology. “The Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center is a vital campus program and one that reflects the Anschutz Medical Campus’s reputation for excellence among top academic health centers nationwide,” Cook said. “We are tremendously grateful for this gift and all that it will make possible for our skilled staff and the patients they serve.” 

Leadership contributions from the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute Foundation enabled University of Colorado Hospital to construct its original Eye Center building in 2001. “Having been the original donor to the building, the Lions are excited about the impact this tremendous gift will have on the future of eye care,” said John Harper, president of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute Foundation. “We look forward to the continued growth of the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center program.” Private gifts and a large institutional investment were instrumental in executing a recent $32 million expansion of the facilities on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. 

CellSight program

The new and modern Eye Center space opened in 2015 and features specialized clinical centers for expert treatment of macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and other conditions, as well as a comprehensive surgical center outfitted with the latest technologies. In 2016, a successful $10 million challenge initiative made possible the establishment of the CellSight program, which is a partnership with the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine focused on developing stem cell technologies to restore sight. 

The only academic eye center within a 500-mile radius, the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center is the highest-volume provider of academic vision care between St. Louis, Missouri, and Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to patient care, the center is committed to graduate medical education, training more than 20 ophthalmology residents and fellows every year. The CU Department of Ophthalmology is widely recognized for innovation, with many faculty firsts – from the development of the first modular intraocular lens for cataract surgery and the Kahook Dual Blade for glaucoma treatment, to conducting the first bionic eye implant in the Rocky Mountain region. 

“Our ophthalmology faculty are among the world’s best and this gift is a vote of confidence in the work they do every day,” said University of Colorado School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD. “Future generations will have Sue Anschutz-Rodgers to thank for ensuring our continued ability to bring the best and brightest physician-researchers to the Anschutz Medical Campus to bring the latest research to bear to deliver the highest-quality eye care.”

Guest contributor: Article written by Trisha Kendall, director of communications, Office of Advancement. 

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CU Anschutz hires Kathy Green as new communications chief

Kathy Green, a seasoned communications professional with over 25 years of experience in politics, health care and marketing, has been appointed chief communications officer at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Kathy Green is the new chief communications officer at CU Anschutz
Kathy Green is the new chief communications officer at CU Anschutz

“We have a tremendous story to tell: one of groundbreaking research, world-class faculty educating a talented student body, excellent clinical care and a bold vision for the future,” said CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman Jr. “I am delighted to announce that today, with the appointment of Kathy Green as our new chief communications officer, we are one step closer to telling that story to the world.”

Green brings decades of experience in multi-disciplinary marketing and communications along with strategic planning and partnership development to the new job.

As communications director for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, she handled media relations, strategic planning and successfully redesigned and rebuilt the office’s communications division, increasing national rankings on social media, boosting citizen engagement and increasing media exposure.

“Kathy’s consistent grace, wit and intelligence, which had such a positive effect on everybody at the governor’s office, will undoubtedly serve CU Anschutz well,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “It’s great to see someone so talented join an institution that’s doing so much to improve health throughout Colorado.”

Prior to her work in the governor’s office, Green served as strategic marketing and communications director for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Before that, she was communications director for various agencies within the City and County of Denver. She also worked in advertising and public relations and started her career with University Hospital in Chicago. Green is currently a communications consultant.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the CU Anschutz team and the dynamic campus at a time of tremendous growth in everything from medical advancements to philanthropic support,” said Green. “The campus continues to gain momentum, and I will focus on sharing this story locally, national and globally.”

Chancellor Elliman noted that with its ground-breaking research, strong enrollment and increasing innovation, CU Anschutz is making major strides in all the right directions.

“Kathy is the right person at the right time to help our growing campus continue to build its reputation, brand and visibility as a leading academic medical center: where anyone who needs it can get the finest care in the world, where the science of that care is being pushed to new horizons, and where we train and prepare the health workforce of the future,” he said.

Green will join CU Anschutz on July 16 in a part-time role while finishing work with her current clients. She will begin full-time on Sept. 1.

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