More Than 2 Million Years of Life Saved With Organ Transplants, Experts Estimate
But shortage of donors keeps doctors from helping more patients, researchers say
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Organ transplants have saved more than 2 million years of life in the United States over 25 years, new research shows.
But less than half of the people who needed a transplant in that time period got one, according to a report published in the Jan. 28 online edition of the journal JAMA Surgery.
"The critical shortage of donors continues to hamper this field: only 47.9 percent of patients on the waiting list during the 25-year study period underwent a transplant. The need is increasing: therefore, organ donation must increase," Dr. Abbas Rana, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and colleagues wrote.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 530,000 people who received organ transplants between 1987 and 2012, and of almost 580,000 people who were placed on a waiting list but never received a transplant.
During that time, transplants saved about 2.2 million years of life, with an average of slightly more than four years of life saved for every person who received an organ transplant, the study authors pointed out in a journal news release.
The number of years of life saved by type of organ transplant were: kidney, 1.3 million years; liver, more than 460,000; heart, almost 270,000; lung, close to 65,000; pancreas-kidney, almost 80,000; pancreas, just under 15,000; and intestine, about 4,500.
One expert noted the relevance of the findings.
"This study highlights the importance of organ donation and shows that solid-organ transplants save lives. One organ donor can impact as many as 50 lives," said Dr. Kareem Abu-Elmagd, director of Cleveland Clinic's Transplant Center, in Ohio.
"The field of transplantation continues to look for ways to save more lives," Abu-Elmagd said. "For instance, the ex-vivo organ perfusion program at Cleveland Clinic has been studying perfusion technology to better preserve donor organs."
With perfusion technology, a machine pumps oxygen and a nutrient-enriched solution through the donor organ to prevent damage or deterioration of the organ before it is transplanted into a waiting patient, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The Baylor researchers suggested a straightforward solution.
"We call for deepened support of solid-organ transplant and donation -- worthy endeavors with a remarkable record of achievement and a tremendous potential to do even more good for humankind in the future," the study authors concluded.
The United Network for Organ Sharing has more about organ transplantation (http://www.transplantliving.org/community/patient-resources/frequently-asked-questions/ ).
SOURCES: Kareem Abu-Elmagd, M.D., Ph.D., director, Cleveland Clinic's Transplant Center, Ohio; JAMA Surgery, news release, Jan. 28, 2015
Health Highlights: Jan. 28, 2015
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Global Vaccination Program for Poor Children Gets $7.5 Billion
A record $7.5 billion has been pledged by nations and private donors to support a worldwide vaccination program for the poor.
Funding to be received by the public-private Gavi alliance includes $1.57 billion from Britain, $1.55 billion from the Gates Foundation, $969 million from Norway and $800 million from the United States, the Associated Press reported.
Gavi has immunized hundreds of millions of children since 2000.
Added to prior pledges, the new donations give Gavi a total of $9.6 billion to vaccinate an additional 300 million children between 2016 and 2020, the AP reported.
'Clarity' Needed on E-Cigarettes: U.S. Surgeon Genera
The U.S. Surgeon General says there is a "desperate need" to learn more about electronic cigarettes in order to develop public health policies for the devices.
"There've been theories and ideas around the fact that e-cigarettes may be helpful from a harm reduction perspective in helping people who are already on cigarettes (that) have had trouble quitting actually get off cigarettes," Dr. Vivek Murthy said Tuesday during a visit to Richmond, the Associated Press reported.
"If the data indeed bears that out, then I think we should absolutely embrace that and use e-cigarettes in targeted ways," he added.
However, Murthy noted that there are many unanswered questions about the health effects of e-cigarettes, which are becoming increasingly popular, the AP reported.
"I'm concerned about e-cigarettes, and I think this is an area where we are in desperate need of clarity," Murthy said. "I think it's important for us to understand the impact, particularly on youth, before we allow the full-fledged spread of these e-cigarettes and then later have problems that we have to deal with."
Health Insurance Enrollment Reaches 9.5 Million
About 9.5 million Americans have signed up for 2015 health coverage under the Obama administration's health care law, and the White House says enrollment is on track to surpass its target.
By mid-January, more than 7.1 million people had signed up in 37 states where the federal government operates insurance markets, and at least another 2.4 million signed up in states that run their own exchanges, the Health and Human Services Department said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The deadline for enrolment is Feb. 15 and administration officials expect a surge of sign-ups just before that date.
The states with the largest numbers of people signing up are: Florida, nearly 1.3 million; California, 1.2 million; Texas, nearly 920,000; North Carolina, nearly 460,000; and Georgia, more than 425,000, the AP reported.
Health Tip: Combat a Pinworm Infection
(HealthDay News) -- Pinworms are intestinal worms that may be easily spread and are common in children.
The Mayo Clinic recommends these tips to help prevent pinworm infections or keep them from spreading:
Shower in the morning and carefully wash the anal area, as pinworms lay eggs while the infected person sleeps.
To help get rid of eggs, change the sheets and the infected person's underwear each day.
Wash all clothing, towels, washcloths and sheets in hot water.
Don't scratch the anal area. Trim an infected child's fingernails to reduce the risk of eggs collecting. Make sure the child doesn't bite his or her nails.
Clean all toilet seats every day to help get rid of eggs.
Always wash hands after using the toilet, changing a diaper and before eating.
Muscle Weakness Affects 1 in 5 Americans Over 80
CDC study finds women more affected than men
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 1 in 5 Americans 80 and older has weak strength in their muscles, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That number declines in younger age brackets, with just 2 percent of Americans ages 60 to 79 having weak strength, the new report found.
A loss of muscle strength is common in old age and can impair daily function. For example, more than half (55 percent) of those older than 60 who had weak muscle strength had difficulty rising unaided from an armless chair, the researchers said.
Fading muscle strength has also been linked to slower walking and "an increased risk of death" in prior studies, said co-authors Anne Looker and Chia-Yih Wang of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). They published the findings Jan. 28 in an NCHS Data Brief.
The researchers tracked government data for 2011-2012 from the ongoing U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The investigators looked at items such as data from physical exams and tests of grip strength.
According to the study, for people over 80, women tended to be weaker in muscle strength than men, and Asians and Hispanics tended to fare worse than whites.
However, one expert stressed that getting older doesn't have to mean debilitating muscle weakness.
The new survey finds that "82 percent of older adults do, in fact, have normal muscle strength," said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
That finding, she said, supports "other studies which have shown that older adults can successfully maintain an optimum physical condition in their later years through good overall preventive care, nutrition and exercise."
Find out about exercise that builds and maintains muscle in the senior years at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseandphysicalactivityexercisestotry/strengthexercises/01.html ).
SOURCES: Gisele Wolf-Klein, M.D., director, geriatric education, North Shore-LIJ Health System, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; NCHS Data Brief, Jan. 28, 2015
Soda Habit May Prompt Early Puberty in Girls, Study Suggests
Early menstruation a risk factor for depression and breast cancer, researchers say
TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Girls who consume a lot of sugary drinks may enter puberty earlier than girls who don't, Harvard researchers report.
Among nearly 5,600 girls aged 9 to 14 who were followed between 1996 and 2001, the researchers found that those who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks a day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer of these drinks a week.
This finding was independent of the girls' body mass index (a height-weight ratio that measures body fat), how much food they ate, or whether they exercised or not, the researchers noted.
"Starting periods early is a risk factor for depression during adolescence and breast cancer during adulthood. Thus, our findings have implications beyond just starting menstruation early," said study first author Jenny Carwile, a postdoctoral associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.
The researchers found that the average age at the first period among girls who consumed the most sugary drinks was 12.8 years, compared with 13 years for those drinking the least.
The reasons why sugary drinks might bring on menstruation early are not clear, she said. "We think it may have to do with the effects of consuming a highly sugared food," Carwile said.
Carwile explained that the girls filled out a detailed questionnaire each year about what they ate. From this data, researchers were able to isolate how much sugar girls got from drinks apart from the sugar they consumed in other foods.
Sugary drinks containing sucrose, glucose or corn syrup have already been linked to weight gain, and this new study shows another negative side effect of these drinks, Carwile said.
"This is one more nail in soda's coffin," she said.
The report was published online Jan. 28 in the journal Human Reproduction.
Senior study author Karin Michels, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, called the study "another reason to cut down on these beverages that have sugar added to them."
Such beverages include sodas, sweetened fruit drinks and sweetened teas.
Carwile noted that diet sodas and fruit juices were not associated with any difference in the age at which girls started their periods.
Michels cautioned that this study cannot prove directly that sugar-sweetened drinks are the cause of earlier menstruation. "We are showing an association," she said. "We can only do some guesswork on the mechanisms."
She said that drinks with added sugar have a higher glycemic index than naturally sweetened drinks such as fruit juices. High-glycemic foods cause a rapid increase in insulin concentrations in the body. This can cause higher concentrations of sex hormones, which have been linked to starting periods earlier.
That lack of a cause-and-effect finding was among several concerns with the study cited by the American Beverage Association.
"Neither this study nor the body of science shows that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption causes early onset of menarche [first period]. What the body of science supports is that adolescent girls are reaching puberty earlier than prior generations; however, there is no scientific consensus concerning the cause of this trend," the association said in a statement.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, "Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as sodas, have no nutritional value. One may wonder what nutrients -- such as vitamins, minerals and protein -- are being replaced by these drinks that can lead to this metabolic problem," she added.
"Whatever the reasons for the earlier start of periods, there is no good reason for anyone to be drinking sugar-sweetened drinks or sodas regularly, at any age," Heller said.
Visit the National Women's Health Network (https://nwhn.org/early-puberty-girls-new-%E2%80%9Cnormal%E2%80%9D-and-why-we-need-be-concerned ) for more on early puberty.
SOURCES: Jenny Carwile, Sc.D., postdoctoral associate, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Karin Michels, Sc.D., Ph.D., associate professor, department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; Jan. 27, 2015, news release, American Beverage Association, Washington, D.C.; Jan. 28, 2015, Human Reproduction, online
Weight Gain or Loss Linked to Fracture Risk in Older Women
Study found just a 5 percent change in weight may affect postmenopausal bone health
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The risk of broken bones increases with both weight gain and loss in older women, according to a new study.
These findings challenge the widely held belief that weight gain protects older women against fractures, the researchers said.
The study included data from more than 120,000 healthy postmenopausal women in the United States. The women were between the ages of 50 and 79 years old. Their health status was followed for an average of 11 years.
A weight loss of 5 percent or more was associated with a 65 percent higher risk of hip fracture, according to the researchers. They also found a 9 percent higher risk of upper limb fracture, and a 30 percent higher risk of central body fracture (hip, pelvis and spine) with weight loss.
A weight gain of 5 percent or more was linked to a 10 percent higher risk of upper limb fracture and an 18 percent higher risk of lower limb fracture, the study found.
The study wasn't designed to prove that weight loss or gain was responsible for the fractures, only that there was an association between these factors.
The investigators also found that unintentional weight loss was associated with a higher risk of hip and spine fractures. On the other hand, intentional weight loss was associated with a higher risk of lower limb fractures, but a lower risk of hip fractures.
The study, by Carolyn Crandall, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine, and colleagues was published Jan. 27 in the journal BMJ.
It's the first study to examine how weight changes affect older women's fracture risk in different parts of the body, and offers important information for doctors, the study authors said in a journal news release.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about fractures (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/fractures.html ).
SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Jan. 27, 2015
Seniors May Keep Falls a Secret
But doctors often able to identify cause of fall and help to prevent another
TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Many seniors don't tell their doctors they've had a fall because they're worried they'll be told they can't live on their own anymore, a physician says.
Millions of Americans aged 65 and older fall every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, fewer than half tell their doctor, the researchers noted.
"They're worried about other people becoming concerned about safety issues at home and the potential that they may have to move from their home to assisted living or a nursing home," Dr. Nicole Osevala, an internal medicine specialist at Penn State University, said in a school news release.
Seniors also don't want others to worry about them, she said.
"If they fall and don't have a serious injury, they don't want to bother their kids or loved ones," Osevala said.
But she urged seniors to tell their doctor about any falls so the causes can be pinpointed and corrected.
Chronic health conditions such as osteoarthritis and nerve damage in the feet and other extremities -- called peripheral neuropathy -- can increase the risk of falls, as can recent changes in health.
"Things like infections -- urinary tract infections, pneumonia, skin infections -- anything that might make them be not quite as strong as they would be normally can put them at increased risk," Osevala said.
Medications, such as antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, can affect balance. And, blood pressure drugs can sometimes lower blood pressure too much, she added.
A seniors' surroundings can also increase the risk of falls, experts say. Things that can make falls more likely are throw rugs, loose cords, poor lighting, clutter on the floor, uneven surfaces, and icy or slick surfaces.
It's also important -- though sometimes difficult -- for older adults to acknowledge their limitations, the study authors explained.
"For example, they might try to climb stairs carrying a laundry basket when they normally have to hold onto the railing," Osevala said. "It may be just a poor choice but they get half way through the task and realize that they're in a precarious situation and they're falling."
And, having had one fall puts seniors at higher risk for having another fall, research shows.
"It's really important to report a fall to your doctor so they can look at all of those areas and identify anything that might be pertinent to you and try to address as many as possible," Osevala said.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about seniors and falls (http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/aboutfalls/01.html ).
SOURCE: Penn State University, news release, Jan. 22, 2015
Don't Become a Blizzard Casualty
Doctor shares tips for staying warm, avoiding falls
TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The blizzard conditions and frigid cold blanketing the U.S. Northeast pose numerous health threats, a doctor warns.
If you must be outdoors, staying warm is critical, said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"In the cold weather, it's important to keep your head, face and nose covered, but most importantly dress in layers to prevent heat loss," Glatter said.
He recommends wearing sturdy insulated boots with thick wool socks while shoveling snow. Also, pay special attention to the head and scalp, as well as the nose, neck and ears, "which are often exposed to the cold air, and thus at risk for heat loss in cold temperatures," Glatter said in a hospital news release.
Shoveling in cold weather can greatly boost your risk of heart attack, especially if you have chronic health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or a history of heart disease and stroke, Glatter warned.
"It's quite important to take frequent breaks while shoveling, but also to keep yourself well hydrated both before and after shoveling. If you develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, arm or back pain while shoveling, stop and call 911," he said.
Glatter said he also recommends using a smaller snow shovel or consider using a snow blower if you have to remove snow. Lifting heavy snow can "potentially raise your blood pressure sharply as you lift," he said.
"It's safer to lift smaller amounts more frequently -- or if you can't lift it, just push the snow," he added.
Shoveling also carries a risk of back injuries, so be sure to lift the shovel with your legs, he advised.
"Falls and slips when walking outdoors may also account for back pain that develops as well. People should wear sturdy, insulated boots and walk slowly, looking carefully at both feet and the pavement in front of them to avoid any potential patches of ice mixed in with the snow," Glatter said.
His other cold-weather advice?
Don't drink caffeine or alcohol immediately before or after shoveling, because they can cause dehydration. But drink plenty of water before and after shoveling.
Hypothermia, another threat, occurs when your body loses heat faster than you can produce it. This can happen within 15 to 20 minutes if you're outside in below-freezing temperatures without proper clothing, Glatter said. Symptoms include dizziness, confusion and shivering. Hypothermia can lead to heart failure or death, especially in people with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you suspect that someone has hypothermia, call 911, get the person inside and replace cold, wet clothing with warm blankets, Glatter said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more winter health and safety tips (http://www.cdc.gov/Features/WinterWeather/ ).
SOURCE: Lenox Hill Hospital, news release, Jan. 26, 2015
MRI Improves Prostate Cancer Biopsy Accuracy, Study Finds
New technology spots more aggressive cancer, but fewer low-risk cases
TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Prostate biopsies that combine MRI technology with ultrasound appear to give men better information regarding the seriousness of their cancer, a new study suggests.
The new technology -- which uses MRI scans to help doctors biopsy very specific portions of the prostate -- diagnosed 30 percent more high-risk cancers than standard prostate biopsies in men suspected of prostate cancer, researchers reported.
These MRI-targeted biopsies also were better at weeding out low-risk prostate cancers that would not lead to a man's death, diagnosing 17 percent fewer low-grade tumors than standard biopsy, said senior author Dr. Peter Pinto. He is head of the prostate cancer section at the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md.
These results indicate that MRI-targeted biopsy is "a better way of biopsy that finds the aggressive tumors that need to be treated but also not finding those small microscopic low-grade tumors that are not clinically important but lead to overtreatment," Pinto said.
Findings from the study are published in the Jan. 27 Journal of the American Medical Association.
Doctors performing a standard biopsy use ultrasound to guide needles into a man's prostate gland, generally taking 12 core samples from predetermined sections.
The problem is, this type of biopsy can be inaccurate, said study lead author Dr. Mohummad Minhaj Siddiqui, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of urologic robotic surgery at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore.
"Occasionally you may miss the cancer or you may glance the cancer, just get an edge of it, and then you don't know the full extent of the problem," Siddiqui said.
In a targeted biopsy, MRIs of the suspected cancer are fused with real-time ultrasound images, creating a map of the prostate that enables doctors to pinpoint and test suspicious areas.
Prostate cancer testing has become somewhat controversial in recent years, with medical experts debating whether too many men are being diagnosed and treated for tumors that would not have led to their deaths. Removal of the prostate gland can cause miserable side effects, including impotence and incontinence, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. But, even if a tumor isn't life-threatening, it can be psychologically difficult not to treat the tumor.
To test the effectiveness of MRI-targeted biopsy, researchers examined just over 1,000 men who were suspected of prostate cancer because of an abnormal blood screening or rectal exam.
The researchers performed both an MRI-targeted and a standard biopsy on all of the men, and then compared results.
Both targeted and standard biopsy diagnosed a similar number of cancer cases, and 69 percent of the time both types of biopsy came to exact agreement regarding a patient's risk of death due to prostate cancer.
However, the two approaches differed in that targeted biopsy found 30 percent more high-risk cancers, and 17 percent fewer low-risk cancers.
"You're missing low-risk cancer. This is the type of cancer where this person certainly would have lived their whole life and died of something else," Siddiqui said.
An MRI is great for guiding doctors to serious cancers, but is not able to detect lesions smaller than 5 millimeters, said Dr. Art Rastinehad, director of focal therapy and interventional urological oncology and an associate professor of urology and radiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
"MRI's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength when it comes to prostate cancer," ignoring low-risk tumors while accurately directing a biopsy to potentially lethal cancers, Rastinehad said. "This study does lay the foundation for a possible paradigm shift in the way we screen men for prostate cancer," he added.
Clinical trials still are needed to show whether MRI-targeted biopsy will save lives or reduce future recurrence of cancer, JAMA Associate Editor Dr. Ethan Basch argued in an editorial accompanying the study. Basch is also director of cancer outcomes research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"A new test should not be widely adopted in the absence of direct evidence showing benefits on quality of life, life expectancy, or ideally both," wrote Basch.
Another open question also remains -- whether the new technology, which requires an MRI for each suspected case of prostate cancer and new equipment to fuse the MRI with an ultrasound scan, would be worth the extra expense.
Pinto believes the new technology might actually save money in the long run, by reducing overtreatment.
"We have to be very thoughtful, especially where health care dollars are scarce, to bring in technology that will not only help men but will be cost-efficient," he said. "That work has not been done completely, although some studies imply this technology may decrease considerably the number of unnecessary biopsies performed every year, and so could help control costs."
For more on prostate cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/prostate ).
SOURCES: Peter Pinto, M.D., head, prostate cancer section, U.S. National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research, Bethesda, Md.; Mohummad Minhaj Siddiqui, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and director of urologic robotic surgery, University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, Baltimore; Art Rastinehad, M.D., director of focal therapy and interventional urological oncology, and associate professor of urology and radiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Ethan Basch, M.D., director of cancer outcomes research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Jan. 27, 2015, Journal of the American Medical Association
'Long Life' Gene Might Make Some Smarter, Too: Study
Greater size of particular brain region predicted better function
TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A gene variant believed to "wire" people to live longer might also ensure that they keep their wits about them as they age, a new study reports.
People who carry this gene variant have larger volumes in a front part of the brain involved in planning and decision-making, researchers reported Jan. 27 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
These folks performed better on tests of working memory and the brain's processing speed, both considered good measures of the planning and decision-making functions controlled by the brain region in question.
"The thing that is most exciting about this is this is one of the first genetic variants we've identified that helps promote healthy brain aging," said study lead author Jennifer Yokoyama, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She noted that genetic research has mainly focused on abnormalities that cause diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The gene involved, KLOTHO, provides the coding for a protein called klotho that is produced in the kidney and brain and regulates many processes in the body, the researchers said.
Previous research has found that a genetic variation of KLOTHO called KL-VS is associated with increased klotho levels, longer lifespan and better heart and kidney function, the study authors said in background information. About one in five people carries a single copy of KL-VS, and enjoys these benefits.
For this study, the researchers scanned the healthy brains of 422 men and women aged 53 and older to see if having a single copy of KL-VS affected the size of any brain area.
They found that people with this genetic variation had about 10 percent more volume in a brain region called the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Yokoyama said.
This region is especially vulnerable to atrophy as people age, and its age-related decline may be one reason why older people can be easily distracted and have difficulty juggling tasks, she said.
Referring to the region as the "conductor of the brain's orchestra," Yokoyama said that it helps people "pay attention to certain types of things, to appropriately shift your attention and to engage working memory," which is the ability to keep a small amount of newly acquired information in mind.
The brain region shrank for everyone, but those with one copy of KL-VS had larger volumes than either people without the genetic variant or those with two copies, the researchers said.
Subsequent "brain game" testing found that the size of this brain region predicted how well people performed on memory and problem-solving tests.
Following up on this finding, researchers genetically engineered mice to have higher levels of klotho, said study senior author Dr. Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF.
"Not only did the mice live longer, but they were smarter at baseline," she said.
In essence, the one in five people with a single copy of this genetic variation will undergo natural aging of brain function slower than everyone else, Dubal said.
"Our data show that carrying one copy of that variant really confers a decade of deferred decline that you see in aging of that brain region," she said.
The findings provide some insight into how medical science may have created a disconnect between the aging of the body and the mind, said Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"Because of modern advances in medicine we are living longer," even if our genetics would otherwise condemn us to an earlier death, Devi said. "But as we live longer and longer lifespans, we come into contact with more illnesses that are brain-related." In other words, medicine to help the brain age gracefully has not kept pace with medicine that helps the body live longer.
While these findings are very preliminary, they could one day lead to treatments that slow brain aging and help people suffering from dementia, Dubal said.
"If one can boost brain structure and function, maybe that could counter the effects of devastating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," she said.
For more on the aging brain, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health (http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/part-1-basics-healthy-brain/changing-brain-healthy-aging ).
SOURCES: Jennifer Yokoyama, Ph.D., assistant professor, neurology, University of California, San Francisco; Dena Dubal, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, neurology, and David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease, UCSF; Gayatri Devi, M.D., neurologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Jan. 27, 2015, Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology