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March 30, 2000


Electrified acupuncture for low back pain in elderly studied

Pitt physicians are studying the use of electronically stimulated acupuncture in treating low back pain caused by osteoarthritis in people over age 65.

The treatment is called percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS). During the procedure, acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points in the lower back, then the needles are given a mild electrical stimulation.

The study will evaluate the effect of PENS in reducing pain intensity and examine its effects on physical and neuropsychological performance, mood and quality of life.

"This represents the first well-controlled, comprehensive examination of alternative medicine intervention for low back pain in older adults," said Debra K. Weiner, assistant professor of medicine and principal investigator in the study.

An estimated 20 percent of older adults suffer from chronic lower back pain, she said.

The study is funded by Pitt's Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center grant.


Study shows EECP improves left ventricular function

Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP) improves left ventricular function in heart failure patients, according to a study presented March 15 by Pitt researchers at the 49th Scientific Sessions of the American College of Cardiology in Anaheim, Ca.

The study, "Improvement in Left Ventricular Performance by Enhanced External Counterpulsation in Patients with Heart Failure," was presented by John Gorcsan III, associate professor of medicine, anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the School of Medicine and director of the Echocardiography Laboratories at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

When undergoing EECP treatment, patients lie on a padded table equipped with inflation and deflation valves connected to specially designed cuffs applied to the lower extremities and buttocks.

As the heart begins its resting phase, the cuffs are inflated sequentially from the calves toward the buttocks. Just before the heart pumps, the cuffs are simultaneously deflated.

This sequence causes the heart to receive an increased supply of blood. It also reduces the heart's workload and increases the amount of blood pumped.

Following 35 one-hour sessions of EECP treatment over seven weeks, all eight patients in the study showed significant increases in their left ventricular function and their ejection fraction. Patients also experienced a decrease in their heart rate.

"EECP appears to be beneficial to left ventricular function in heart failure patients and may be a useful adjunct to medical therapy," Gorcsan said.

According to the American Heart Association, 4.9 million patients in the United States have heart failure. With 400,000 new cases each year, heart failure is the single most frequent cause of hospitalization for people age 65 and older.


NIMH grants $6.9 million to Intervention Center for Late-Life Mood Disorders

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded a five-year, $6.9 million grant to the Intervention Center for Late-Life Mood Disorders at UPMC Health System's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC).

The grant will be used to develop and test new treatment methods for late-life depression, anxiety, grief and insomnia; train researchers; and disseminate information on new treatments that work.

The WPIC center, originally funded in 1995, is renowned for its research of medications and therapies that relieve symptoms of elderly depression and improve recovery response time and for its work to help find ways to prevent suicide among depressed elderly.

"When we started this center five years ago, we set out to learn how best to help the depressed elderly," said Charles F. Reynolds III, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience. "It's gratifying to know that NIMH recognizes that our work is helping people live better lives."

Research studies at the center assess methods to lower the suicide rate among the depressed elderly, examine the impact of stress on family caregivers of patients with dementia, use brain imaging to study physical changes brought on by aging, and evaluate new drugs for safety and effectiveness.

The center also provides services such as evaluations and consultations and provides treatment courses that stress both medication and talk therapy.

This spring, the center will begin publishing a newsletter called "Aging Upbeat" to inform patients, doctors and legislators about new developments in treating depression.

The WPIC Intervention Center for Late-Life Mood Disorders is one of three NIMH Centers of Excellence for research and treatment of elderly depression. UPCI researchers collaborate with doctors from other centers of excellence at the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University.

Participants for the center's research studies must be age 60 or older and experiencing depression, anxiety, grief or insomnia.

For information about research studies, treatment or to receive a copy of "Aging Upbeat," call the center at 412/ 624-1886.


Medical entrepreneur center set up

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) has launched the Scott Limbach Center for Medical Entrepreneurship. The center will promote medical entrepreneurial knowledge and activities among UPCI faculty and students through education and resource support.

Initial funding for the center has been provided by a grant from Scott Limbach.

Educational activities of the Limbach Center will include a lecture series featuring successful medical entrepreneurs, seminars on business issues related to entrepreneurship, and possibly a medical entrepreneurship degree program.

Support functions of the center will include providing "pre-seed" funding for projects with commercial potential, and advice on business management issues.

Ronald B. Herberman, UPCI director, said: "The Limbach Center will be a valuable asset in assisting our faculty and researchers in becoming more involved in taking important ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace. After the center begins to achieve this goal related to cancer research, we envision that it will be broadened to encompass a much wider range of opportunities across the Schools of the Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh."

He noted that UPCI faculty have obtained more than $90 million annually in federal and other funding. "The Limbach Center offers a very novel way to build on that strong foundation and spawn substantial growth in related economic development that will be beneficial not only to the University, but also to the western Pennsylvania region," Herberman said.

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