September Tip Sheet: Medical Science & Health

Tip sheets highlight timely news and events at Washington University in St. Louis. For more information on any of the stories below or for assistance in arranging interviews, please see the contact information listed with each story.

New targets for seizures
Mouse model may suggest new ways to treat some causes of epilepsy


Just as films or plays feature both stars and a supporting cast, in the brain the cells called neurons have “starring roles.” But a team of epilepsy researchers led by David H. Gutmann, M.D., Ph.D., the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, has found that a type of supporting cell in the brain is responsible for some epileptic seizures. Studying mice that develop a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), which affects about 50,000 Americans and causes debilitating epileptic seizures in half of them, Gutmann’s team found that cells called astrocytes played a critical role in the development of seizures. The researchers found that mice that lack a particular gene developed seizures, and they say that gene, combined with the knowledge that the “supporting” astrocyte cells are responsible for the seizures, provides new targets for treating epilepsy.

Math tool improves cancer treatment
Quicker calculations for cancer therapy

A new technique in development will produce quick and efficient radiation dosing.
A new technique in development will produce quick and efficient radiation dosing.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a technique that makes radiation oncologists significantly faster at calculating radiation dosages for patients undergoing cancer treatment. The technique also provides a more carefully controlled dosage of radiation to cancerous cells that is less likely to damage nearby healthy tissues. The research team — led by Victor Wickerhauser, Ph.D., professor of mathematics in Arts & Sciences and Joseph O. Deasy, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine — has turned to a mathematical tool called wavelet analysis to calculate radiation dose distributions. The tool has helped speed up the dose calculations by a factor of two or more compared to the standard dose calculation technique.

Sore throats and colonies of bacteria
Bacterial biofilms may be source of recurrent tonsillitis


Infection of the tonsils, or tonsillitis, is one of the most common infectious diseases of childhood. More than 400,000 tonsillectomies are performed annually in the U.S., making it one of the most common surgical procedures involving children. Prior to surgery, pediatricians prescribe antibiotics, and children get better, but infections can return in a pattern that repeats itself until the doctor — or the frustrated parents — finally decide that the tonsils must come out. Now researchers, led by Richard A. Chole, M.D., Ph.D., Lindburg Professor and head of the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, have discovered that bacteria often form biofilms in the wet and warm folds of the tonsils, and that these may serve as reservoirs of repeated infection. Recent evidence has linked biofilms to a variety of persistent infections.

Competing with the heat
Parents and coaches need to be aware of signs of heat-related illness in young athletes

Matthew Matava

Children who participate in sports or are physically active in hot weather can be at risk for heat-related illnesses. Each year in the United States, there are a number of tragic stories about young athletes who lose their lives after playing or practicing in the heat. The problems can occur when athletes of any age work hard in extreme heat and humidity, but the risks can be even greater in children because children tend to sweat less than adults, making it harder for their bodies to cool off. Matthew Matava, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and head team physician for the St. Louis Rams, says parents and coaches need to make sure kids take things slowly and gradually get used to playing and practicing in the heat and humidity. They also need to make it easy for children to get a drink during practice, with more frequent drink breaks as the temperature and humidity levels rise.

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