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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on nervous system disorders

June 13, 2018

This month our focus is on research that examines disease or trauma that affects the brain and nervous system.

For more information on research pertaining to traumatic brain injury, visit the recent VA Research Spotlight on brain health.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) Fact Sheet Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex neurologic disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and vision pathways. In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. Damage from these attacks is called demyelination, and the scar tissue that develops when myelin is damaged is called sclerosis.


VA Research Quarterly Update

A simple treatment for a complex neurological disease A simple treatment for a complex neurological disease

Dr. James F. Morley is a board-certified neurologist with training in treating Parkinson's disease and movement disorders. He is associate director for research at the Parkinson's Disease Research, Education and Clinical Center at the VA medical center in Philadelphia. VARQU spoke with Dr. Morley about his research award, in which he is investigating the effects of exercise on drug-induced Parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease. (August 2017)



Using 'young blood' to treat Alzheimer's disease Using 'young blood' to treat Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray is a VA investigator in Palo Alto, California. He and his team have demonstrated the rejuvenating effects of blood taken from young mice and given to older mice with Alzheimer's-like disease. They used transgenic mice that harbored a mutated gene which causes cognitive defects in mice that are similar to those in Alzheimer's disease. (August 2017)

VA Research Currents

Epstein-Barr virus could be cause of multiple autoimmune disorders Epstein-Barr virus could be cause of multiple autoimmune disorders

The Epstein-Barr virus, best-known for its role in causing mononucleosis, or the "kissing disease," has now been linked to a wide range of autoimmune diseases, ranging from lupus and multiple sclerosis to inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease.... (04/19/2018)



Deep brain stimulation linked to longer survival for Parkinson's patients Deep brain stimulation linked to longer survival for Parkinson's patients

A treatment called deep brain stimulation could slightly extend the life of people with Parkinson's disease. Researchers found that patients who received stimulation via an implanted device had a modest survival advantage compared with those treated with medication only. (12/20/2017)


Study: Leg implants for paralysis work long-term  Study: Leg implants for paralysis work long-term

Researchers followed up with patients with spinal-cord injury years after the patients had received neuroprosthetic implants that allow them to stand and perform other functions. The systems "provide lasting benefits that recipients value," the study found. (11/09/2017)



Parkinson's patients do the tango in hopes of improving walking ability, balance  Parkinson's patients do the tango in hopes of improving walking ability, balance

An Atlanta VA researcher has modified the traditional Argentine tango to serve as a rehabilitation therapy for Veterans and others with Parkinson's disease. Her work showed that dance classes triggered improvements in neuromuscular control in the participants’ abilities to walk and gain balance. (09/27/2017)

VA Researchers Who Served

Dr. John NeyDr. John Ney
Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital
Main area of study: Neurology
"I learned how to conduct medicine in very austere conditions, without access to nursing, lab work, or blood in a very up-tempo combat environment."

VA Research News Briefs

Researchers report technical breakthrough for brain-computer systems  - Adapted from JN articleAdapted from JN article

Researchers report technical breakthrough for brain-computer systems

A team that included researchers from the Providence VA Medical Center showed how “local field potentials”— the total electrical current flowing to a small section of nervous tissue in the brain—may be a more robust, stable signal for brain-computer systems than neuronal action potentials, which represent the activity of individual brain cells. The study involved one person with ALS and another with locked-in syndrome due to a stroke. In locked-in syndrome, the person is mentally engaged but unable to speak or move his or her limbs. The two participants were able to type messages and emails for 138 and 76 days, respectively, without needing re-calibration of their brain-computer systems. Past studies in which the decoding of brain signals was based on neuronal action potentials had required far more frequent re-calibration. The researchers say they have achieved a “new benchmark” for stability, using local field potentials. “This study is a step towards a reliable and robust [brain-computer interface] that will allow people with [locked-in syndrome] to communicate independently and, therefore, provide greater and more extensive interactions with their friends, family, and caregivers.” (Journal of Neurophysiology, April 25, 2018)


Blood cancer patients with cognitive impairment may have worse survival - Photo: ©iStock/Dr._MicrobePhoto: ©iStock/Dr._Microbe

Blood cancer patients with cognitive impairment may have worse survival
Cognitive impairment was linked to worse survival rates in patients with blood cancers, in a study that included VA Boston Healthcare System researchers. They looked at 341 elderly patients with leukemia, myeloma, or lymphoma. Of those, 127 had executive dysfunction and 62 had impaired working memory. Those with impaired working memory had lower median survival, regardless of treatment type. Executive dysfunction was linked with worse survival only for those undergoing intensive treatment. While age is the main cause of cognitive impairment, some cancer-fighting drugs may further impair cognition. Other cancer treatments, as well, may worsen existing health conditions. The results show that targeted interventions are needed for cancer patients with cognitive impairment, say the researchers. (JAMA Oncology, March 1, 2018)

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Media Reports

Even a mild head injury increases risk for Parkinson's disease, veterans study shows

Even a mild head injury increases risk for Parkinson's disease, veterans study shows (ABC News)
Even a mild head injury, commonly called a concussion, makes veterans more likely to get Parkinson's disease later on in life, a new study shows. This is the same type of injury suffered by many Americans on the sports field or in a motor vehicle crash each year. A group of 165,000 veterans with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) were found to have a higher risk of Parkinson's disease, compared to other veterans of the same age. (04/19/2018)

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