Research roundup

Insights & Outcomes: Cardiac lag times and chemistry that’s off the scale

(Illustration by Eri Griffin)

In a challenging season for science and for humanity, Yale’s recently published research continues to expand our knowledge of the natural world in diverse fields of inquiry.

This month, Insights & Outcomes shines a light on energy conversion, a therapeutic computer game, and the role of pharmacies in the opioid crisis. As always, you can find the latest research news on the Science & Technology and Health & Medicine pages on YaleNews.

Boosting concentration for kids with ADHD — via a computer game

Playing specially designed computer games can help a substantial subset of children with attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD) improve concentration by changing how their brains respond to stimuli, Yale researchers have found. Symptoms of attention-deficit disorder among a group of children with an average age of 7 were significantly reduced after a 15-week training program that included computer games and tailored physical exercises, the researchers reported. The improvements were found even in children not receiving drug treatment for ADHD. The authors suggest specialized training might be useful for ADHD prior to use of prescription drugs or in severe cases in conjunction with medications. “Digital neurotherapy is much more targeted than medication because it specifically activates neural systems which are under-functioning in children with ADHD,” said senior author Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry. Wexler also uses digital neuropathy games in elementary schools to improve cognitive skills necessary for learning in children without known disorders. C8 Sciences, a Yale startup Wexler founded, is working with school systems to help close achievement gaps between poor and affluent districts. The study appears in Psychological Medicine.

Lamenting the lag between cardiac surgeries and statewide reporting

One way patients with cardiac ailments and their clinicians make treatment decisions is by looking at available data for cardiac surgery outcomes in their own state. But a new study led by Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz found that the lag time between surgeries and statewide reporting of the outcomes makes the information less useful. “We showed that during the three-year lag time between evaluating and publishing hospitals’ outcomes for cardiac surgery, the hospitals’ outcomes change so much that this delay makes the information less relevant and may mislead the consumer,” said Makoto Mori, a surgical resident at Yale and lead author of the research. The researchers studied data from California and New York. The research letter appears in JAMA Surgery.

Scaling the heights of sustainable energy science

Energy storage and conversion are key facets of sustainable energy science. Fuel cells, for instance, directly convert chemical energy to electrical energy. A key part of many fuel cells is the oxygen reduction reaction, combining O2, four protons, and four electrons to make two molecules of water. A longstanding goal of researchers has been to perform this reaction both rapidly and efficiently — but this is usually limited by inherent trade-offs known as “scaling relationships.” Yale chemists Daniel Martin, Brandon Mercado, and James Mayer recently reported a unique case in which both speed and efficiency can be improved simultaneously. They said their discovery is a combination of two different scaling relationships. This first-of-a-kind approach, they said, circumvents the typical limitations in the oxygen reduction reaction, and could have a broad impact on optimizing energy-relevant reactions. The study appears in Science Advances.

Fighting off false positives

Soon after the birth of a child, some parents will get the disturbing news that their infant appears to have a serious metabolic disease. While the standard test for it is extremely sensitive and catches almost all cases of rare metabolic diseases, occasionally it detects a disorder that isn’t there, leaving parents in fear for weeks while awaiting confirmatory tests. A new study by researchers at Yale and Stanford has found one potential reason for these false positives — blood biomarkers of disease that vary with the race and ethnicity of the parents. Curt Scharfe, associate professor of genetics at Yale and senior author of the study, said the research team is now using artificial intelligence to incorporate ethnic and racial marker differences into newborn screening to reduce false positive results, without missing real cases of metabolic disorders. The study appears in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease.

Pharmacies could be key in fighting opioid dependence

Opioid dependence has wreaked havoc in rural areas of the United States, and individuals’ chances of recovery from addiction has been hampered by a shortage of methadone treatment centers. Methadone is one of three medications used for the treatment of opioid use disorder, and access is critical when other medications do not meet a patient’s needs. A new Yale-led study suggests that using pharmacies to dispense methadone, as is the practice in Australia and Canada, would expand access by reducing the drive time to the nearest treatment facility, especially in rural areas. (In the United States, patients go to special methadone treatment centers.) The new study shows that median drive times to methadone treatment facilities among census tracts in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia — the states with the highest rates of overdose deaths — was 19.6 minutes longer than it was to pharmacies. The United States should encourage the dispensing of methadone at pharmacies, said lead author Paul Joudrey, an instructor at the Yale School of Medicine. The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643