Practical matters of health

Last weekend, representatives of newspapers from across the state gathered in Charleston for our West Virginia Press Association annual convention, which, of course, included the usual round of panels and discussions.

Among the more fascinating was the presentation by Dr. John Linton, of WVU Health Care Research. He is associate vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine — Charleston Campus, in addition to being the vice chair of the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine in Charleston.

In presenting a broad overview of projects developing in West Virginia University’s health sciences programs, Linton painted a picture of a program on the brink of some incredible things.

At the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair, vice president of neuroscience, is spearheading a project that could develop a chip the size of a grain of rice that could be implanted in the brain to kill cravings for opiates.

Another project at the institute is working toward injecting microscopic bubbles into the bloodstream, then using ultrasound to bounce those bubbles around enough to open up the blood brain barrier so treatments can be effective. (Forgive my over-simplification of what Linton described. I was spending more time with my mouth hanging open than taking detailed notes.)

Among the possibilities in such disruption of the blood brain barrier is a treatment that goes after the plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Linton cautioned that such a treatment is not a cure, but it could reduce the plaques and stall mental deterioration by as long as 20 years.

Imagine the possibilities for tackling two big challenges faced by Mountain State residents if the work at WVU produces approved treatments.

While some of what Linton discussed was mind-blowing, others seemed to be so common sense that the surprise was in them being presented as “new” concepts.

For example, WVU is developing “Rapid Response Teams” within hospitals “to catch patients before they decline through the use of technology and critical care training.” Essentially, availability of such teams cuts through a lot of red tape and wasted time for patients who don’t have time to be run through all the bureaucratic hoops in some hospitals. Seems like something that should always have been in place, doesn’t it? But Linton said it is a new idea in many hospital settings.

He then told us about a partnership with Stop the Bleed, a national campaign that “turns bystanders into first responders.”

According to Linton, most of the emergencies an average person will encounter involve someone who is bleeding. Through this campaign, life-saving techniques to stop bleeding are taught to average folks — the kinds of people who might have CPR certification and a first aid kit in their cars, but be reluctant to jump in when they see someone losing blood.

Linton said the truth is, someone who is bleeding in an emergency situation is likely to have lost so much blood before an official first responder arrives on the scene that their life could be in danger.

Certainly the best way to be prepared is to take a Stop the Bleed class. But Linton said the simplest step one can take is to “put your hand over it. Stop it from coming out.”

He acknowledged many people are reluctant to do that, and said he understands that as a medical professional who carries disposable gloves with him everywhere, he is more prepared than most. More complete information than the summary he gave us is available at bleedingcontrol.org.

As Linton’s presentation wrapped up, I got a sense that WVU Health Sciences is forging ahead with a remarkable combination of world-class research breakthroughs and old fashioned common sense — in many more areas than what I have mentioned here.

It is oddly comforting to know the whiz-bang stuff is happening, but that researchers understand the simple, practical stuff can be just as effective in some situations. It would be nice if that mindset was applied everywhere.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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