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Blood results revealed from contaminated water near Colorado Springs

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Colorado School of Mines shared the preliminary blood results from a study on poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found at high levels in groundwater wells associated with public drinking water systems near Colorado Springs in 2013. The contaminants are linked to firefighting foam used at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

Researchers tested the blood of 220 residents in Security, Widefield, and Fountain, and discovered PFAS levels well above the national average. Dr. John Adgate, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, said blood samples show some chemicals at rates twice as high and up to 12 times as high as median levels found across the country.

Blood testing is just the first step in the study, which will look further at signs of immune function and other health markers among participants in the year to come.

For more information on the preliminary results, visit https://www.pfas-aware.org/

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Researchers find possible connection between cardiovascular disease indicators and living near oil and gas wells

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health have found a possible connection between the intensity of oil and gas exploration in an area and early indicators of cardiovascular disease among nearby residents.

In a pilot study of 97 people in Fort Collins, Greeley and Windsor, the scientists found that those who lived in areas of more intense oil and gas development showed early signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including higher blood pressure, changes in the stiffness of blood vessels, and markers of inflammation.

Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health
Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, Colorado School of Public Health

The study was published this month in the journal Environmental Research.

“We are not sure whether the responsible factor is noise or emissions from the well pads or something else, but we did observe that with more intense oil and gas activity around a person’s home, cardiovascular disease indicator levels increased,” said the study’s lead author Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

From Oct. 2015 to May 2016, the researchers measured indicators of CVD in 97 men and women from Fort Collins, Greeley and Windsor who did not smoke tobacco or marijuana. The participants did not have jobs that exposed them to dust, fumes, solvents or oil or gas development activities.  None had histories of diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic inflammatory disease like asthma or arthritis.  CVD is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S. with more than 900,000 deaths in 2016.

“While behavioral and genetic factors contribute to the burden of CVD, exposure to environmental stressors, such as air pollution, noise and psychosocial stress also contribute to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” according to the authors.

John L. Adgate, PhD, MSPH, Colorado School of Public Health
John L. Adgate, PhD, MSPH, Colorado School of Public Health

One increasingly common source of these stressors is extraction of oil and gas in residential areas. Advances in fracking, horizontal drilling, and micro-seismic imaging have opened up many previously inaccessible areas for exploration. Some of those wells are in heavily populated areas. “More than 17.4 million people in the U.S. now live within one mile of an active oil and gas well,” McKenzie said.

Previous studies have shown that short and long-term exposure to the kind of particulate matter emitted from oil and gas operations may be associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and death. At the same time, noise levels measured in communities near these facilities have exceeded levels associated with increased risk of CVD and hypertension, the study said.

This study is the first to investigate the relationship between oil and gas development and CVD. But the results are consistent with an increase in the frequency of cardiology inpatient hospital admissions in areas of oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania.

“Our study findings support the use of these indicators of cardiovascular disease in future studies on oil and gas development in residential areas,” McKenzie said.

Those indicators included blood pressure, arterial stiffening and early markers of inflammation.

McKenzie acknowledged the limitations of the small sample size, saying that the results demonstrate the need for a much larger study.

The study co-authors include: John L. Adgate, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health; James Crooks, Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, National Jewish Health, Department of Epidemiology, Colorado School of Public Health; Jennifer L. Peel, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Colorado School of Public Health, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University; Benjamin D. Blair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health; Stephen Brindley, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health; William B. Allshouse, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health,

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Hormone may preserve bone and muscle mass in older women

Women 55 and older have an increased risk of bone and muscle loss, but therapy with the hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) may help prevent bone loss and increase muscle mass in older women, according to a new study led by Catherine M. Jankowski, PhD, FACSM, an exercise physiologist and associate professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study was published online Nov. 27 in the journal Clinical Endocrinology and highlighted in Endocrinology Today.

Jankowski and colleagues analyzed data from four single-site, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials sponsored by the National Institute on Aging designed to assess the effects of oral DHEA therapy on bone mineral density (BMD) and body composition in women and men between the ages of 55 to 85 who were not using sex hormone therapy.

The dose of DHEA used in the studies increased circulating DHEA sulfate levels to that of young adults.

“Because age-related decreases in androgen and estrogen production contribute to the loss of bone and muscle mass in older adults, restoring DHEAS to youthful levels may be an effective strategy for maintaining bone and muscle,” said Jankowski.

In all four studies, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) was used to measure total body fat and lean (muscle) mass, and bone mineral density of the proximal femur, total hip, and lumbar spine at baseline and after 12 months of DHEA or placebo administration. Serum DHEA sulfate, estradiol, testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin and insulin-like growth factor I concentrations were also measured at baseline and at 12 months. Researchers merged data from the four studies into a central database and compared the 12-month changes in BMD, body composition, circulating hormones, and growth factors in response to oral DHEA therapy versus placebo.

Of the 486 cases, 138 women and 98 men had low bone mass, and 29 women and 11 men had osteoporosis. The researchers found that DHEA therapy was associated with increased BMD of the lumbar spine, total hip and trochanter in women, but not in men. The increases in BMD in women were not as large as seen with other treatments such as bisphosphonates.

“Unlike some pharmaceutical trials targeting BMD, the DHEA trials we conducted did not target women with osteoporosis, which may have contributed to the modest increases in BMD,” said the researchers.

“It is possible that DHEA therapy could be a strategy to mitigate the decline in BMD in postmenopausal women who do not tolerate other treatments,” according to Jankowski. However, the authors also concluded that the safety of long-term DHEA therapy (more than one year) needs further research.

The investigators also found sex-specific results effects on fat-free mass (which includes muscle mass) in women and a decrease of 0.4 kg fat mass in men. None of the four trials controlled for exercise behaviors, which could have contributed to the increase in fat-mass of women taking DHEA.

“Combining DHEA therapy with resistance exercise that imparts mechanical strain to bone may promote greater increases in muscle mass and BMD compared to either intervention alone,” stated Jankowski. “The beneficial effects of DHEA replacement on body composition are to modestly increase fat-free mass in women and decrease fat mass in older men, a reversal of the usual age-related trends in muscle and fat.”

Jankowski and colleagues are currently conducting a randomized placebo-controlled trial to determine the independent and combined effects of bone-loading exercise and DHEA on BMD and muscle mass in postmenopausal women with low bone mass or moderate osteoporosis (NCT# 03227458).

Co-authors of the pooled analysis include: Wendy Kohrt, Pamela Wolfe, and Sarah J. Schmiege of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora; K. Sreekumaran Nair, Sundeep Khosla, and Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Denise von Muhlen, Gail A. Laughlin, Donna Kritz-Silverstein, Jaclyn Bergstrom, and Richele Bettencourt of the University of California, San Diego; Edward P. Weiss currently of St. Louis University, St. Louis; and Dennis T. Villareal, currently of Baylor University and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston.

Guest contributor: Dana Brandorff, director of Marketing & Communications, CU College of Nursing

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Talent behind the lab coats

“Ni hao.” “Namaste.” “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” “M’bolani.” “What’s up?”

At the recent Talent and Attire Show hosted by the Association of International Researchers (AIR), these were only a few of the responses to Ranjitha Dhanasekaran, PhD, president of AIR, who opened the show by directing the audience: “Say hello in your native tongue.”

The show in the Krugman Conference Hall, complete with international banquet catered by local restaurants, was the culmination of the nationwide International Education Week (IEW). “IEW is hosted by the State Department of the United States to recognize the importance of international education and cultural exchange,” said Michelle Larson-Krieg, JD, director of the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) with the Office of International Affairs at the CU Anschutz and CU Denver campuses.

One of the many volunteers who made the event possible, Daniela Santos, MD, said the annual event fosters both a sense of belonging and acceptance among international researchers on campus as well as an avenue to show pride in their heritage. “It’s a two-way exchange of ideas,” she said. For example, Santos elaborated, it changed her perspective seeing a Nigerian lab mate, who typically wears U.S. street clothes, donning traditional Nigerian apparel for the attire show. “It’s a way to learn about who he is and where he came from.”

Humor a theme of the night

Talent show Ironic
Jennifer Major, PhD, and her 6-year-old daughter Roxy perform a Canadian music tribute vis-à-vis Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”

Canada-born Jennifer Major, PhD, and Scotland-born John Peacock, PhD, postdoctoral fellows at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, served as hosts and comedic relief for the event. “What’s the difference between the United States and Canada?” Peacock quipped to the audience. “The U.S. has a nice neighbor.” Off-stage, a more serious Peacock explained that as a scientist, it’s important to have interests other than science, and the event brings much-needed art and culture to the medical campus, which he feels can be a bit sterile at times. “There are many diversely talented people working here, and unless they have such a platform to show off these talents, few people will know this.”

In contrast to Peacock’s droll humor, Major, AIR’s vice president of communications, performed a Canadian music tribute while her 6-year-old daughter Roxy danced in accompaniment. While not intended as a comedy routine, Major’s rendition of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” was affected by a few sound glitches, causing her to improvise with an a cappella performance and lending some levity amidst the technical problems.

Global talent on a local stage

Talent show international
From left: Daniela Santos, 10-month-old Emmalina Sayem, Nabanita Mukherjee, PhD, and Ranjitha Dhanasekaran, PhD, president of the International Student and Scholar Services at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. All women participated in the attire show.

The two-part talent show took a break for dinner, followed by the attire show. Over 100 international and domestic faculty, staff and students were in attendance, many with their children. Talents on display included singing, dancing, folklore and short comedy readings. “People embrace the opportunity to share their background, culture and talents,” said Larson-Krieg. “You can see the enthusiasm for the event in the volunteers, the people who participate, and the performers.”

Marveling at the diversity of the campus international community, director of the Postdoctoral Office and Career Development Office Bruce Mandt, PhD, joked, “Who knew there was so much talent hiding behind lab coats?” Mandt said events such as the talent show are important career-development opportunities. “Science is global,” Mandt insisted. “Our trainees need opportunities to understand that science transcends borders and at some point, regardless of whether they remain in academia or move into other industries, they will work with people from all over the world.”

Nabanita Mukherjee, PhD, wearing traditional ceremonial attire including a reed crown, performed Odissi, one of the oldest surviving Indian classical dance forms. Mukherjee explained that her performance began with a tribute to Mother Earth, then to the Almighty, to the Teacher/Guru and finally to the audience. In the past, Mukherjee frequently performed public dance routines; however, she took a break from dancing following the birth of her child. “It felt great to me personally to realize I can continue dancing,” she said.

One of the most striking performances of the night came when the song “The End of the World,” most notably performed by Skeeter Davis and featured in movies such as “Girl, Interrupted” and TV shows including “Mad Men” and “Lost,” was performed at the event by Yao Ke, PhD, who alternated singing in English and Mandarin Chinese. Given the familiarity of the tune, many in the audience sang in their native language, serving as a reminder that though songs may be translated into other languages, the melody remains the same. Likewise, at CU Anschutz, a community of researchers from diverse cultures and backgrounds are united by their passion for science.

Dhanasekaran added, “The Association for International Researchers is here to promote inclusivity and diversity.” Further elaborating, she quoted thought leader Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Guest contributor: Story written by Shawna Matthews, a postdoc at CU Anschutz. Photos by Eseosa Enabulele, MPH

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Women in hospital medicine face major obstacles in pregnancy and returning to work

Women in hospital medicine face major obstacles during pregnancy, parental leave and returning to work, prompting a discussion about gender equity in medicine, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Emily Gottenborg, MD, assistant professor in the division of Hospital Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine
Emily Gottenborg, MD, assistant professor in the division of Hospital Medicine at the CU School of Medicine

The study, published recently in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, includes wide-ranging interviews with 10 female academic hospitalists from institutions around the country. They were asked about their experiences during pregnancy, parental leave and the challenges of returning to work including barriers to breastfeeding and diminished career opportunities.

“It is commonly thought that the medical profession is more enlightened around parental support than other professions, but it really isn’t,” said the study’s lead author Emily Gottenborg, MD, assistant professor in the division of Hospital Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We found a lack of paid leave policies in academic settings, difficulty in support for breastfeeding, and loss of career opportunities when new parents return to work.”

Gottenborg said hospital medicine is unique in that 47 percent of practitioners are women and 80 percent are under age 40, indicative of a large proportion of women entering the profession during a time in life when many want to start a family.

“The field poses known challenges to this population, including shift work, atypical schedules and unpredictable hours,” Gottenborg said. “Our goal was to both explore the challenges to undergoing this experience and discovering solutions to support female academic hospitalists.”

Most participants described inadequate paid parental leave that resulted in haggling with managers, human resources and administrative staff for time away from work with their newborns.

“All of my leave was unpaid…managed to finagle short-term disability into paying for it…the system was otherwise set up to screw me financially,” one research participant said.

All of the women described significant physical challenges when working during pregnancy.

“I used to lie on the floor of my office, take a little nap, wake up, write some notes, go home, take another nap, wake up, write some more notes,” a doctor reported.

Breastfeeding, extolled by the medical community for its long-term benefits to children, was an endless challenge, the study said. Privacy was often elusive.

“It’s two chairs that are behind a curtain in a women’s locker room in the basement of the hospital, that are tiny and gross,” said one physician.

Another said this:

“I would get to work, set up, and pump while chart reviewing. Then I would go and see people…and come back to my office and pump and write a few notes. And go out and see more patients, and then pump. I was like a cow.”

Some stopped breastfeeding early because of these difficulties.

Many of the physicians interviewed faced serious career challenges during this period. Sometimes they were left out of projects or not asked to participate.

“People feel they are missing out and their career suffers,” Gottenborg said. “One of the reasons women are not in more leadership positions in medicine is because of these big breaks in their lives.”

The study calls for a more generous paid leave policy that not only includes maternity leave but a flexible scheduling period before and after the leave to account for the challenges of pregnancy and new motherhood.

“Paid parental leave is rare in academic settings, but studies from other industries show that when women take paid leave, they are more likely to remain in the workforce 9-12 months afterward, work more weekly hours and feel more loyal to the organization,” the study said.

Ultimately, Gottenborg said, if academic medicine wants to continue to attract and retain women it needs to reexamine work-life policies that often feel antiquated.

“As medical professionals we should be in the forefront of this kind of change,” she said, “not lagging behind.”

The study co-authors include: Anna Maw, MD; Li-Kheng Ngov, MD; Marisha Burden, MD; Anastasiya Ponomaryova, BS and Christine Jones, MD, MS.

 

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Movember’s mission: make headway on men’s health

Philip Owens, an Army veteran-turned-scientist, believes the sideways glances that accompany his month-long mustache are a small sacrifice to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues.

For the month of November, Owens, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology in the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is participating in the global fundraising campaign known as Movember. The Movember Foundation, whose slogan is “Changing the face of men’s health”, uses fashionably-unfashionable facial hair practices to start conversations around screening and treatment for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. Owens belongs to the University of Colorado Cancer Center Movember Team, whose fundraising team of physicians and researchers raised over $9,000 in 2017.

Around Owens’ lab, the scruffy ’stache has elicited a bevy of amused responses. Meredith Provera, a professional research associate in the lab, says it was difficult to sustain serious dialogue after the facial hair appeared. “It was so hard to talk science,” she laughs.

As for his family: “My wife hates it,” Owens claims, “and my kids think it’s terrible.”

Repaying soldiers’ sacrifices

Philip Owens growing facial hair
Owens has received some guff from colleagues and his family about his scruffy facial hair this month.

Owens’ passion for men’s health started when he joined the Washington Army National Guard 10 days after his 18th birthday. Serving eight years as a medic in the 164th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) and 6250th U.S Army Hospital, Owens left his military career with a sense of gratitude and wanting to repay soldiers’ sacrifices. As an early-career scientist at Vanderbilt University, Owens was inspired to participate in Movember by Bob Matusik, PhD, a tireless patient advocate and champion for research.

In 2017, Owens accepted an assistant professorship at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and moved his passion for men’s health, along with his wife and three kids, west to Colorado.

Currently funded through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with a Career Development award, Owens studies the metastasis of prostate cancer to bone. The lack of good treatment options for metastatic prostate cancer is personal to Owens, as veterans experience higher rates of aggressive cancer compared to the general population. Owens explains that bone metastases are relatively slow-growing yet can be extremely painful, resulting in very poor quality of life for patients for several years. “Survival per se is not the only problem,” Owens clarifies. “Another problem is pain.”

Owens’ lab studies the role of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) in bone metastasis. These proteins drive bone development in healthy individuals but get hijacked by prostate cancer cells. Because prostate cancer patients with bone metastases are of advanced age, recovery following a bone fracture is generally quite poor. “We need to gauge each patient for fracture risk and develop a treatment plan accordingly,” Owens says.

Conversation starter

How can mustaches jump-start conversations about men’s health? As men are generally less comfortable discussing and seeking preventative medical care, communicating with men about health concerns is uniquely challenging and requires a specialized approach, Owens says. “The best part is the mustache, right? Let’s be honest.”

‘We should all strive to die of something stupid, like a whiskey-fueled hot air balloon race against your 93-year-old best friend.’ – Philip Owens

He explains that his mustache is an automatic conversation starter and gives people a direct way to ask questions, get involved and contribute. As a fundraiser and cancer researcher, Owens appreciates the financial transparency of Movember. “It’s very obvious that the charity is using donations toward its stated mission,” he explains.

Funding health programs worldwide

Indeed, the Movember Foundation, started in 2003, is active in over 20 countries and globally raised $67.5 million in 2017. The foundation boasts 76.1 percent of funds raised are used to fund men’s health programs, over 1,200 to date. Examples of organizations which have received Movember funding include the LIVESTRONG Foundation, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Prevention Institute.

Owens typically shaves his usual beard on Halloween night; however, this year he was slated to give a talk to Cancer Biology faculty and students on Nov. 1, so he waited an extra day. “I didn’t want to distract from the science,” he says.

When asked what drives his commitment to improving treatment options for prostate cancer patients, specifically veterans, Owens says, “As a patient, if you survive beyond the primary diagnosis, not a day goes by that you aren’t waiting for the relapse.” He adds that the human experience should not end with a cancer diagnosis, but rather, “We should all strive to die of something stupid, like a whiskey-fueled hot air balloon race against your 93-year-old best friend.”

Guest contributor: This story was written by Shawna Matthews, a postdoc at CU Anschutz.

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Is there a penalty for weight loss?

Losing weight is difficult for most people, and keeping it off is invariably a struggle. Some studies have suggested that a greater than expected reduction in resting metabolic rate — the amount of calories your body burns at rest — may be one factor that contributes to weight regain after weight loss.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) recently conducted a study that suggests that resting metabolism is not lower than expected in a group of successful weight loss maintainers. These results differ from a 2016 study which focused on a small group of subjects from “The Biggest Loser” televised weight loss competition. That study, conducted by a federal research center, followed 16 men and women with class III obesity who lost an average 120 pounds in just a few months— and found they all put most of the weight back on over a period of years.

Resting metabolic rate is determined by the calories used by muscle, organs such as the liver and kidney, and to a lesser extent by body fat. The amount of calories the body burns at rest is known to decrease after weight loss as body size decreases, and this is one reason why it is so hard to maintain weight loss. “To keep the scale from titling back to your original body weight, you will need to eat fewer calories or burn more calories in exercise to stay in energy balance at your new body size,” says Victoria A. Catenacci, MD, a weight management physician and researcher at CU.

Controversial question

A question that generates some controversy, Catenacci said, is whether there is an additional “metabolic penalty” that occurs with weight loss — a decrease in resting metabolism beyond what is predicted from changes in body composition.

Victoria Catenacci
Victoria A. Catenacci, MD, a weight management physician and researcher

“The Biggest Loser” study suggested that six years after the weight loss competition ended, the contestants suffered an additional metabolic penalty due to their weight loss. Their resting metabolism had slowed to the point that their bodies were burning 500 calories a day less on average than the researchers predicted they should be based on their new body size.

CU researchers noted that the resting metabolism suppression of 500 calories a day had not been seen previously in weight-loss study literature; previous estimates of the metabolic penalty due to weight loss typically suggested resting metabolic rate was at most 40-150 calories below predicted values.

Significant health benefits

“News articles that came out after ‘The Biggest Loser’ study basically said, ‘Weight loss is a futile effort, so why bother?’” said Danielle Ostendorf, MS, ACSM-CEP, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine at AHWC, and a recent graduate from the Colorado School of Public Health. Ostendorf was the lead author of the study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “That’s problematic, because even some weight loss can result in significant health benefits.”

The CU study addresses the question of whether resting metabolic rate is lower than predicted in a group of individuals who are maintaining a weight loss. The CU researchers reached a different conclusion: “Results from our study suggest that sustained weight loss may not always result in a substantial, disproportionately low REE that inexorably predisposes individuals to regain weight,” Catenacci said.

Danielle Ostendorf
Danielle Ostendorf, MS, ACSM-CEP, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center

The CU study divided 102 participants, ages 16 to 65, into three groups: weight-loss maintainers (individuals who had lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year); controls of normal body weight (matched to the current Body Mass Index (BMI) of the weight-loss maintainers); and controls with overweight/obesity (matched to the pre-weight-loss BMI of the maintainers).

Comparing resting metabolism

“After comparing resting metabolism in weight loss maintainers to controls, and using several published equations to predict resting metabolism, we didn’t find much evidence of suppression of resting metabolic rate in our group of successful weight loss maintainers,” Ostendorf said. “We found that after adjusting for differences in body composition, resting metabolism in successful weight loss maintainers was on average only 14 calories a day lower than predicted.” However, there was variability with some weight loss maintainers showing a lower-than-predicted resting metabolic rate (by as much as 250 calories a day), whereas others showed that their resting metabolic rate was higher than predicted (by up to 150 calories a day).”

The CU team acknowledges that “The Biggest Loser” research used a stronger study design of longitudinal data collection (following each individual over time) compared to the cross-sectional design of its study. In addition, the CU study only looked at people who had been successful in weight loss maintenance. However, they noted that “The Biggest Loser” analysis was a small study of a group of individuals who exhibited extreme obesity. “These were people who lost a lot of weight over a very short period of time, so it may not represent what people experience when losing weight with more conventional lifestyle weight loss strategies,” Catenacci said. “To take that data and extrapolate it into this message that weight loss is futile — when that’s not the way the majority of people lose weight — just seemed concerning.”

Delving deeper

The CU team plans to delve deeper into this issue using data collected in an ongoing weight loss study in which participants are randomized to a lifestyle weight loss program involving either daily calorie restriction or intermittent fasting.  It has a cohort in the weight-loss program which is currently at the six-month mark; a second cohort is being assembled to start the program in January (see sidebar).

“It’s important to show that there is hope for people who want to lose weight,” Ostendorf said. “But it’s also important to recognize that a metabolic penalty may exist for some people who lose weight. It’s definitely a sensitive issue.”

WANT TO BE IN A WEIGHT-LOSS STUDY?

Volunteers are needed for a research study to learn more about the best eating patterns for weight loss within a 12-month behavioral weight loss program.

To be eligible you must:

  • Be a man or woman between 18 and 55
  • Be generally healthy without diabetes or heart disease
  • Be a non-smoker
  • Not currently exercising regularly
  • Have a BMI between 27 and 40kg/m2
  • Live or work within 30 minutes of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus

For more information about what you will receive, please contact the study team at DRIFT2@ucdenver.edu

There is strong data to suggest that humans are biologically predisposed to regaining lost weight. Factors other than changes in resting metabolism, such as increases in appetite and decreases in the amount of calories the body burns during exercise, may also play a role. So essentially, Catenacci said, losing weight and keeping it off is not as simple as just willpower.

“These studies don’t solve the issue by any means,” she added. “They are pieces in the puzzle. More data is needed before we draw any sweeping conclusions about the presence or absence of a metabolic penalty.”

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Infants born to obese mothers risk developing liver disease, obesity

Infant gut microbes altered by their mother’s obesity can cause inflammation and other major changes within the baby, increasing the risk of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease later in life, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Alteration of the gut microbiome early in life may precede development of obesity instead of being caused by established obesity,” said the study’s lead author Taylor Soderborg, an MD/PhD candidate in the Integrative Physiology Program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “This is the first study to show a causative role of these microbes in priming development of obesity.”

Childhood obesity is a world-wide epidemic with recent predictions saying that 57 percent of today’s children will be obese by age 35. That parallels the rate of maternal obesity which is nearly 40 percent. Obesity increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which impacts at least 30 percent of obese children. NAFLD can lead to liver failure, requiring a transplant.

Taylor Soderborg
Taylor Soderborg, an M.D./PhD candidate in the Integrative Physiology Program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In this study, researchers looked at two-week old infants born to normal weight mothers and obese mothers.  They took stool samples from infants from both groups and colonized them inside germ-free mice.

They discovered that the gut microbes from babies born to obese mothers caused metabolic and inflammatory changes to the liver and bone marrow cells of the mice. Then, when fed a Western-style high fat diet, these mice were predisposed to more rapid weight gain and development of fattier livers.

“This is the first experimental evidence in support of the hypothesis that changes in the gut microbiome in infants born to obese mothers directly initiate these disease pathways,” Soderborg said.

For the study’s senior author, Jed Friedman, PhD, MS, professor of pediatrics and neonatology at the CU School of Medicine, the findings offer potential hope for understanding how early microbes might go awry in children born to obese mothers.

“About 35 percent of these kids have NAFLD and there is no known therapy for it,” he said. “But if we can alter the microbiome we can change the course of NAFLD.”

Friedman said the study shows that the microbiome can cause the disease rather than simply be associated with it. Newborns of obese mothers, he said, could be screened for potential changes in their gut that put them at risk for NAFLD.

Jed Friedman
Jed Friedman, PhD, MS, professor of pediatrics and neonatology at the CU School of Medicine

“If we could modify the first two weeks of the infant microbiome, we could reduce the risk of this disease,” said Friedman.

That could be done through giving the infant probiotics or other supplements.

Soderborg said future studies on pre and probiotics are needed to better understand how they could help modify the risk of childhood obesity and the risk of liver disease in infants born to obese mothers.

The study co-authors include Sarah E. Clark; Christopher E. Mulligan; Rachel C. Janssen; Lyndsey Babcock; Diana Ir; Dominick J. Lemas; Linda K. Johnson; Tiffany Weir; Laurel L. Lenz; Daniel N. Frank; Teri L. Hernandez; Kristine A. Kuhn; Angelo D’Alessandro; Linda A. Barbour; Karim C. El Kasmi.

 

 

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Chancellor Don Elliman honored with American Cancer Society Champion of Hope Award

“I love my job. I get to go to work every day surrounded by people who are trying to make the world a better place: to give people life, to give people hope.”

With those words, CU Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Don Elliman accepted the American Cancer Society’s Champions of Hope Award on Saturday night, Nov. 10. Elliman was chosen for his distinguished service and leadership, and honored with this TRIBUTE VIDEO.

Dr. Schulick with Chancellor Elliman
Chancellor Elliman is congratulated by Richard Schulick, MD, director of the CU Cancer Center, at the ASC Champion of Hope gala.

The Champions of Hope Award recognizes outstanding partners of the American Cancer Society – of which CU Anschutz certainly is one. Since 1955, the Society has funded nearly 200 cancer-related research grants at CU, $31 million worth. Currently, it’s funding 17 multi-year research grants totaling $8.8 million in Colorado, many of which are at CU Anschutz. Elliman thanked the Society for its ongoing support of cancer research.

Speaking of his “belief that we will see more advances in health care in the coming decade than we’ve seen in the last 50 years, maybe longer,” Elliman noted that many of these breakthroughs are likely to be in the area of cancer care and cure. Citing immunology and immunotherapy efforts underway at CU Anschutz, he said “with CAR-T cell and other novel therapeutics, people who have failed all standard therapies and are out of options, have hope, and a good chance to cure. And that’s just one example.”

More than 300 people attended the Champion of Hope gala, held at the EXDO Event Center in Denver’s RiNo Art District. The event highlighted the Society’s accomplishments of the past 100 years as the largest nonprofit funder of cancer research in the United States, and raised more than $209,000 for cancer research in Colorado.

Elliman was quick to note that as much as he appreciated the honor, it was not his alone. CU Anschutz collaborates with cancer organizations, health care facilities, nonprofit organizations, government institutions and corporate sponsors to help achieve the common goal of eliminating cancer.

“I get the plaque,” he said, “but you are the real champions of hope.”

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Among heart attack survivors, drug reduces chances of second heart attack or stroke

In a clinical trial involving 18,924 patients from 57 countries who had suffered a recent heart attack or threatened heart attack, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and fellow scientists around the world have found that the cholesterol-lowering drug alirocumab reduced the chance of having additional heart problems or stroke.

The study was published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Gregory Schwartz MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Gregory Schwartz MD, PhD, co-author of the study and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Alirocumab is in the class of drugs called PCSK9 antibodies.

“It works by increasing receptors on the liver that attract particles of LDL cholesterol from the blood and break them down. The result is that blood levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol decrease by approximately 50 percent, even when patients are already taking a statin,” explained Gregory Schwartz MD, PhD, co-author of the study and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The trial looked at patients who were at least 40-years-old, had been hospitalized with a heart attack or threatened heart attack (unstable angina), and had levels of LDL cholesterol of at least 70 mg per deciliter despite taking high doses of statins.

Half of the patients received alirocumab by self-injection under the skin every two weeks, and the other half received placebo injections. The patients were followed for an average of nearly three years. During that time, LDL cholesterol levels averaged 40 to 66 mg per deciliter in patients given alirocumab, compared with 93 to 103 mg per deciliter with placebo. Death from coronary heart disease, another heart attack or episode of unstable angina, or a stroke occurred in 903 patients given alirocumab, compared with 1052 patients given the placebo, corresponding to a 15% reduction in risk.

“Statins have been the main cholesterol-lowering drugs for heart patients for more than 30 years, and they are very effective,” Schwartz said. “Now we know that we can improve the outcomes after a heart attack by adding alirocumab to statins in selected patients.”

In the trial, alirocumab was safe and generally well-tolerated. The only common side effect with alirocumab was itching, redness, or swelling at the injection site which was usually mild. It occurred in 3.8 percent of those given alirocumab, compared with 2.1 percent of patients who received the placebo.

Alirocumab was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015 as a treatment for high cholesterol, but it has only now been shown to also reduce the risk of heart disease events and stroke.

The study was funded by Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Schwartz co-chaired the study with Philippe Gabriel Steg, MD, from Hôpital Bichat, Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris in Paris, France.

 

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