Lab notes

Better brain health

Researchers at the National Veterans Affairs Brain Rehabilitation Research Center of Excellence in Gainesville have received $4.5 million to study the brain’s ability to recover from neural injury or disease. The center, a consortium that includes the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville, UF, UF Health Shands Hospital, UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital and the Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, will receive the award over the next five years. The award will help researchers study mechanisms of brain plasticity. Their discoveries can help them develop and test interventions for the recovery of cognitive, motor and emotional function for those who have had a traumatic brain injury, stroke or spinal cord injury or who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. — Morgan Sherburne

Bias in treatment?

UF researchers have found a correlation between Medicare and patient access to surgical treatment for subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke that affects as many as 30,000 Americans each yearoften causing death or long-term impairment and disability. For patients who have suffered this type of stroke, surgical intervention can spell the difference between recovery or long-term disability and death, yet patients on Medicare are less likely than those with private insurance to be referred for surgical treatment, according to findings published in the journal PLOS ONE. This may represent a conscious or unconscious bias against Medicare patients, who are typically older and have preexisting disabilities or chronic illnesses, said Azra Bihorac, M.D., senior author of the study and an associate professor of anesthesiology, medicine and surgery at the UF College of Medicine. “It’s not that you don’t get surgery because you have Medicareyour doctor isn’t checking your insurance,” said lead author Charles Hobson, M.D., M.H.A., a surgical critical care specialist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “But having Medicare as primary health insurance may be a proxy for bias against the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.” — Marilee Griffin

Unnecessary test

Physicians sometimes order cardiac stress tests for symptomless patients out of an abundance of caution, but a new study shows this practice rarely reveals hidden heart issues. The researchers found few patients, if any, who do not display symptoms of cardiac distress benefited from undergoing stress tests that look for cardiac problems. Their observational study, published online in the Journal of Nuclear Cardiology, relates to a campaign called “Choosing Wisely,” organized by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation and Consumer Reports. The campaign aims to reduce the overuse of tests and procedures. “Our study was to show to the medical community that these tests not only have been thought to be unnecessary based on what the professional society is saying, but also in that we don’t see any value in them for the patient,” said David Winchester, M.D., a professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicine and the study’s lead author — Morgan Sherburne