Research Update


Youth football teams are more frequently exposed to more forceful head impacts as they move up in age- and weight-based levels of play, according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist.

Their study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma, employed in-helmet sensors to record head impacts in youth football players. They collected the number and location of impacts and the linear and rotational acceleration they caused to the heads of 97 players ages 9 to 13 in one youth football organization. Data was collected during practices and games at three different age- and weight-based participation levels during at least one of four seasons

“By recording more than 40,000 head impacts, this study represents the largest collection of biomechanical head impact data for youth football to date,” said study author Jillian Urban, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “Our findings show a trend of head impact exposure increasing with increasing level of play, but with variability within levels of play.”

The researchers also found that while approximately two-thirds of all head impacts in the three levels occurred during practice, the percentage of high-magnitude impacts was higher in games and the number of such impacts in games increased with the level of play. READ FULL RELEASE

The study was funded in part by the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma at Wake Forest Baptist.


Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist in collaboration with those at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Tianjin Medical University General Hospital in China may have found hope in the fight against pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal, aggressive and difficult to treat of all cancers.

In an effort to better understand pancreatic cancer at a molecular level, the researchers conducted a study to try to identify molecules that could become the next generation of therapeutics for this type of cancer. Results of their findings were published in the April issue of the journal Autophagy.

Perhaps the most important finding was the team for the first time found that treating the pancreatic tumor cells with MIR506 induced autophagy, a process that occurs as a normal and controlled part of an organism’s growth or development and that could promote cancer cell death. MIR506 is a type of micro RNA produced in the body. Research has shown it to function as a tumor suppressor in many human cancers and has enhanced chemotherapy’s effectiveness in ovarian cancer.

“The potential therapeutic value of this finding is important because we could deliver MIR506 directly to pancreatic cancer cells using technologies like nanoparticles and exosomes,” said Wei Zhang, PhD, the inaugural Hanes and Willis Family Professor in Cancer and the study’s principal investigator. “Hopefully, this will provide us with a new way to fight this deadly form of cancer.” READ FULL RELEASE


Scientists from an international consortium have identified a large number of new genetic markers that predispose individuals to lupus. The study, published in July in the journal Nature Communications, was led by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, King’s College of London and Genentech Inc.

“This study is the largest multi-ethnic lupus genetics study to date and allowed us to identify many new genetic markers, some of which are specific to individual ethnic groups and others that are shared across ethnicities,” said Carl Langefeld, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of biostatistical sciences at Wake Forest Baptist. “With this information, we can begin to better understand the differences in the rates and severity of disease across ethnic groups.

Autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself, strike one in 15 Americans, are among the top 10 causes of death in women and cost an estimated $100 billion a year in medical care. Systemic lupus erythematosus, the form of lupus studied here, is the most common type of lupus and is a prototypical autoimmune disease.

Lupus strikes women nine times more often than men and its onset is most common during childbearing age. Also, African-American and Hispanic women are two to three times more likely to develop lupus and tend to have more severe cases than Caucasian women. It can affect many parts of the body, including joints, skin, kidney, heart, lungs, blood vessels and brain, according to the Lupus Research Alliance, and there is no cure. READ FULL RELEASE


A new study has found that children born extremely premature to women who are overweight or obese before the pregnancy are at an increased risk for low scores on tests of intelligence and cognitive processes that influence self-regulation and control, according to Wake Forest Baptist researchers.

The study was published online by The Journal of Pediatrics.

“Roughly one-third of women entering pregnancy are either overweight or obese in this country, and that is a cause for concern,” said the study’s lead author Elizabeth T. Jensen, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the division of public health sciences. “There is accumulating medical evidence that there is a relationship between maternal obesity and neurocognitive function in children, and our study adds to this evidence.” READ FULL RELEASE


A routine blood test that measures kidney function can be a valuable predictor of short-term outcomes for stroke patients, according to a study led by a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist.

“Kidney disease is frequently a comorbidity in patients with acute ischemic stroke,” said Nada El Husseini, MD, assistant professor of neurology and the principal investigator of the study, which was published in February in the journal Stroke. “This one test done on admission to measure kidney function can be used to better inform patients with ischemic stroke and their families about what to expect.”

The study team analyzed data on more than 232,000 ischemic stroke patients age 65 and older who were admitted to 1,581 U.S. hospitals over three years. The researchers found that those patients with renal dysfunction upon admission were significantly more likely to die while hospitalized and far less likely to be discharged home. READ FULL RELEASE


Wake Forest Baptist scientists believe they may have found a way to predict who will be successful in their weight-loss efforts by using a quick, noninvasive brain scan.

In findings from a small study published online in the journal Obesity, the researchers were able to predict weight loss success with 78 percent accuracy based on the brain volume of the study participants.

“A simple test that can predict intentional weight loss success using structural brain characteristics could ultimately be used to tailor treatment for patients,” said Jonathan Burdette, MD, professor of radiology and co-author of the study.

“For example, people identified at high risk for failure might benefit from intensive treatment and close guidance. People identified as having a high probability for success might best respond to less intensive treatment.”

He said the study’s small sample size was a limitation, but the researchers hope to include more people in follow-up studies and broaden the types of interventions to help improve the predictive nature of the test. READ FULL RELEASE


Moderate-intensity exercise can help even extremely obese older adults improve their ability to perform common daily activities and remain independent, according to Wake Forest Baptist researchers.

Findings from the National Institutes of Health-funded study were published in the July issue of the journal Obesity.

Both overall obesity and abdominal obesity are strongly associated with the development of major mobility disability (MMD), the inability to walk a quarter of a mile, according to Stephen Kritchevsky, PhD, lead author and director of the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention at Wake Forest Baptist.

Previous data on older populations had suggested that obesity may lessen the beneficial effects of physical activity on mobility. However, this research, which analyzed data from the multicenter Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, showed that a structured physical activity program reduced the risk of MMD even in older adults with extreme obesity.

“Having a major mobility disorder can really affect the quality of life and independence for older people, but we showed that moderate exercise was a safe and effective way to reduce that risk even in severely obese people,” Kritchevsky said. READ FULL RELEASE