New technology helps diagnose hidden heart disease, says UK cardiologist

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Written by Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the Women’s Heart Health Program at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Today’s technology has made tremendous strides in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, but until recently it was tricky to diagnose a heart condition called Microvascular Coronary Dysfunction (MCD).

The most common type of heart disease is caused by plaques that begin to clog one or more of the large arteries that carry blood to the heart. When the heart gets too little blood to meet its needs, people have chest pain (called angina). If blood flow is restricted even further – usually due to a clot that lodges in the narrowed artery – a heart attack and death may occur.

Plaque is often involved in MCD, too. But instead of accumulating in the larger coronary arteries, MCD occurs when the tiny blood vessels that branch off from the larger coronary arteries are blocked or damaged.

For unknown reasons, MCD occurs more frequently in women. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 50 percent of women who have persistent chest pain and low blood flow to the heart but no blockage of major arteries have undiagnosed MCD.

Unfortunately, standard tests for heart disease, such as stress tests and cardiac catheterizations, aren’t designed to detect MCD. These tests look for blockages in the large coronary arteries, but MCD affects the tiny coronary arteries. That means that you can have a cardiac catheterization that finds no blockages yet still be at high risk for a heart attack.

Sadly, people who have been reassured that “everything was OK” because their cardiac catheterization was clear might not feel the need to make lifestyle changes that would reduce their coronary risk and/or ignore warning signs that a heart attack is imminent.

If you have persistent chest pain, see a doctor right away. Your doctor may give you a stress test, which compares coronary circulation while you are at rest with your circulation during exercise. He or she may also recommend a cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a long thin tube from a small incision in your groin, neck or arm up into the heart to look for blockages in your arteries.

If your catheterization shows no sign of blockages and you are still experiencing chest pain, ask for a coronary reactivity test which can identify blockages in the smaller coronary arteries – the hallmarks of MCD.  Available at specialized centers around the U.S., coronary reactivity testing is the gold standard for diagnosing coronary microvascular disease.

And always, if you experience severe chest pain, if that pain radiates down your arm or to your back or jaw, and/or you are short of breath, call 911 right away.


Next steps:

UK HealthCare's 2017 Year in Review

A few of our favorite stories from 2017 that you might have missed

2017 was a year to remember for all of us here at UK HealthCare.

Before we look ahead to 2018, here are a few of our favorite stories from the past year that you might have missed.


Second-grade teacher returns to the classroom after leukemia treatment at Markey

Markey Cancer Center success story, Erika Carter on Tuesday May 9, 2017. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphotoA regular checkup revealed that Erika Carter’s white blood cell count was low. Within a few months, she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. With help from the UK Markey Cancer Center and Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, the Versailles second-grade teacher conquered her leukemia diagnosis and got back in the classroom. Read Erika’s story.


‘I feel so much better’: Gill helps 70-year-old woman conquer lifelong heart problems

After a fever damaged her heart as a young child, Priscilla Riley, now 70, had battled heart problems her entire life. For decades, she managed her symptoms, but earlier this year, things took a turn for the worse. That’s when Riley came to the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute and met Dr. Andrew Leventhal, who had an idea to help her feel better. Read Priscilla’s story.


After hip surgery at UK, triathlete gets back in the race

When Patty Lane was diagnosed with arthritis in her hip, she was told her time as a competitive triathlete was over. Not willing to give up on her dreams, Patty turned to UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine for a second opinion. Read Patty’s story and find out how UK helped her keep pursuing.


‘I can’t imagine a better place to be,’ says UK heart patient

By the time he was 13, Jason Conn had undergone three open-heart surgeries to repair a congenital heart defect. Although he was able to enjoy a normal life with few health problems, his childhood condition became a concern once again in adulthood. That’s when he turned to the experts at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. Read Jason’s story on our blog.


Pediatric surgeon tells little Connor’s story of hope

After being born prematurely and dealing with a series of complications, Connor Stacy had less than a 50 percent chance of survival. That’s when Kentucky Children’s Hospital pediatric surgeon Dr. Ana Ruzic and her team sprang into action to save Connor’s life. Read Dr. Ruzic’s account of Connor’s journey.


UK HealthCare named the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky – again!

No. 1 hospital in KentuckyIn August, we were thrilled to announce that UK Chandler Hospital was once again named the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky by U.S. News & World Report! Four specialties – Neurology & Neurosurgery, Cancer, Geriatrics and Diabetes & Endocrinology – ranked in the top 50 nationwide. Learn more about this exciting recognition.


Next steps:

Family honors veteran’s memory with toy drive for KCH

Jonathan Edward Ard always wanted to serve his country. As an Eagle Scout, he lived his life by the Boy Scout creed, vowing to always help others. After the events of 9/11, he joined the army where he trained to become a member of the U.S. Special Forces and served two tours of duty in Iraq.

But to his family and friends, “Jon” was so much more than a soldier; he was a big kid at heart who delighted in shopping for toys to donate at Christmas.

“Purchasing and donating toys was a cherished Christmas tradition for him,” said Jon’s older brother Michael. His family honored Jon’s memory by continuing that tradition on the first anniversary of his death.

During his tours in Iraq, Jon was exposed to toxic burn pits and depleted uranium. Little was known at the time of the long-term effects of the exposure.

After returning from Iraq, Jon graduated from Eastern Kentucky University, got married and started a family. He was working as an engineer at 3M when he began to experience flu-like symptoms in the summer of 2015.

On Oct. 28, 2015, Jon was diagnosed with leukemia and was admitted to the UK Markey Cancer Center for several rounds of chemotherapy, during which his second daughter, Elizabeth, was born. In February 2016, Jon underwent a bone marrow transplant with stem cells from an anonymous donor.

“While going through chemo and the stem cell transplant, he often expressed concern for children who might be going through cancer treatment,” said Jon’s mother LaBera.

Though the transplant went well, Jon developed pneumonia and passed away on Dec. 14, 2016. At Jon’s visitation and memorial service, the family requested toys in lieu of flowers or other offerings. Jon’s pickup truck was parked in front of the church, and visitors were asked to put their donations in the truck, which would be driven to Kentucky Children’s Hospital after the service.

Visitors filled the truck five times over.

“Jonathan was a generous person and a big kid at heart and loved selecting and purchasing toys to donate to local toy drives at Christmas,” his mother said. “To continue a celebration of Jonathan’s life and some of the things that made him so dear to us, we decided to collect toys again this year for donation to KCH and deliver them on the anniversary of his death.”

Friends, Jon’s coworkers from 3M and members of the community generously donated over a thousand toys. His family delivered them on the anniversary of Jon’s passing. The donations collected by the Ards were made available to the parents of patients at KCH’s Winter Wonderland Toy Workshop, an annual event where parents select Christmas gifts for their children without having to leave the hospital.

“One of the things my brother Jon really enjoyed doing was Christmas shopping and bringing the toys he had and donating them to the children in need at the hospital,” Michael said. “So we thought that was a fitting way to honor his memory.”


Next steps:

  • Interested in donating to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital? Visit Give to KCH to learn more about ways you can support our mission.
  • Markey’s new state-of-the-art 11th floor will allow our care teams to treat more patients with complex cancer diagnoses, including blood cancers such as leukemia.

Fire safety tips for the holiday season

Putting out decorations and baking special recipes create wonderful memories during the holiday season, but there’s also a risk. House fires occur more during the winter holidays than at any other time of the year.

Keep your holidays festive and your loved ones safe with these fire safety tips:

  • Pay attention to your Christmas tree. If using a real tree, keep it watered, and keep heat sources at least three feet away. If using a fake tree, make sure that it’s flame retardant. In either case, use a sturdy tree stand that won’t fall over.
  • Be mindful when you decorate. Follow manufacturer’s instructions, and only use flame resistant or flame retardant decorations. Replace broken pieces or loose cords.
  • Unplug decorations when you’re sleeping or away. Keep your tree, lights and other electronic decorations unplugged when you leave the house or go to sleep.
  • Be careful with candles. The incidence of candle fires is highest in December. Never leave flames unattended, and blow out each candle before leaving the room or going to bed. Never use lit candles near your tree.
  • Install smoke alarms. Test them monthly, and put in fresh batteries at least once a year. You should have one in the kitchen, on each level of your home and near sleeping areas.
  • Have your fireplace inspected. The chimney walls may need cleaning. Use a screen to embers from escaping, and only burn seasoned wood – no wrapping paper or other materials.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking or baking. Keep flammable items like pot holders, oven mitts or food packaging away from your stovetop.
  • Always supervise children and pets. Keep them away from candles, matches and lighters, and watch them around other decorations.
  • Clean up after the holidays. Get rid of your tree after Christmas or when it’s dry. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard, so don’t leave them in your garage or outside leaning against your house. Also bring outdoor electrical lights inside to prevent hazards.

Next steps:

stroke research

UK team first to offer innovative stroke care through clinical trials

The combination of a new clinical trial and a tissue bank is innovating stroke care and research at the UK. Led by a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and scientists, the two studies aim to develop new treatments using existing therapies that protect brain tissue after a stroke, and to learn more about the physiology of the event.

The MAVARIC (Magnesium and Verapamil After Recanalization in Ischemia of the Cerebrum) clinical trial leverages existing standards of care and approved drugs to improve how the brain heals following a stroke. The related BACTRAC (Blood and Clot Thrombectomy Registry and Collaboration) study is developing a tissue bank of thrombi (stroke-causing clots) and distal and peripheral blood to examine the immediate molecular changes that occur at the stroke site. Both the MAVARIC trial and the BACTRAC study are the first of their kind.

The burden of stroke is especially severe in Kentucky, where it’s the third-leading cause of death (compared to fifth nationally) and occurs at earlier ages than in the rest of the country. Globally, stroke is the leading cause of morbidity and physical incapacity.

Despite the prevalence of stroke, current standards of care include only two potential treatments. One is a drug called tPA, which, if administered quickly enough, can break up the clot that caused the stroke. This treatment, however, has a limited window of opportunity – three to four and a half hours – and can exacerbate injury if delivered too late. The second treatment option is a thrombectomy, where the clot that caused a stroke is physically removed through a catheter inserted into the blood vessel. The therapeutic window for thrombectomy is much longer, sometimes up to 24 hours.

Even with the advances of tPA and thrombectomy, which can be highly effective in removing the cause of the stroke, neither therapy treats the injury inflicted by a stroke.

“Thrombectomy has become common and widely effective, but only 60 to 70 percent of patients will be independent in three months – so there is more to be done,” said Dr. Justin Fraser, director of cerebrovascular surgery at UK and one of the principal investigators of the MAVARIC trial.

Leveraging existing drugs and modalities

In the hope of improving stroke outcomes by treating the injured area of the brain, Fraser partnered with Dr. Gregory Bix, director of the UK Center for Advanced Translational Stroke Science, to look at repurposing existing drugs that, in combination with thrombectomy, could limit brain tissue damage and promote healing in stroke survivors.

“After the clot is removed through the catheter, there’s immediate access to the site in the brain where the injury is occurring. We’re taking therapeutics that already exist and putting them into the catheter immediately after we remove the clot, so that the drug is delivered directly to the stroke-affected area of the brain,” Bix said.

Fraser and Bix began by repurposing an existing calcium channel blocker called Verapamil, which is mainly used to treat heart arrhythmias but is also FDA-approved for use to relax brain blood vessels that contract after a thrombectomy. Fraser noticed anecdotally that patients who received Verapamil during a thrombectomy had better outcomes than their imaging and symptoms would have predicted.

In a previous preclinical study and Phase I trial – the first in the world to pair thrombectomy with immediate, intra-arterial administration of a neuroprotective drug – Fraser and Bix found that intra-arteria delivery of Verapamil was safe. Furthermore, in cell culture and animal models of stroke, it was effective in preventing significant ischemia-induced injury. But they also understood that Verapamil alone wasn’t addressing the complex process of damage caused by stroke.

“There’s not going to be a single magic bullet in terms of drugs. When someone has a stroke, multiple pathways get activated and damaged. If you give a drug that addresses only one pathway, it doesn’t treat everything. So we need to try combining drugs,” Fraser said.

MAVARIC clinical trial

In the MAVARIC trial, which opened in October, Fraser and Bix are investigating whether combining magnesium with Verapamil can bestow even greater neuroprotective benefits. Magnesium has previously been studied for its potential to protect the brain after a stroke, but this trial is the first to intra-arterially deliver a neuroprotective “cocktail” to the stroke site. A total of 30 stroke patients will be enrolled; stroke size, safety, and functional and cognitive outcomes will be evaluated through randomized, blinded outcome assessment.

“By using the catheter that was inserted to remove a clot, we’re then able to deliver neuroprotective drugs directly into the brain tissue that was just reopened,” Frasier said.

The combination of Verapamil and magnesium was first validated in preclinical models before moving to a clinical trial.

“When I used these two drugs in experimental stroke models, it demonstrated very cleanly that there was a significant reduction in mean infarct volume – in other words, smaller strokes – as well as better functional outcomes. We were the first to model this completely in lab animals,” Bix said.

Because the trial uses existing FDA-approved therapeutics and modalities, the research team can conduct animal model and clinical research simultaneously, allowing them to refine the animal model as they learn more through the clinical research.

The trial also includes collaboration with Kentucky Appalachian Stroke Registry, which will enable analysis of thrombectomy and severe stroke patients who might have been candidates for the new procedure, as well as analysis of a rare but increasing stroke condition called moyamoya.

Support for the MAVARIC trial comes from the UK Multidisciplinary Value Program, which funds investigator-initiated clinical trials at UK through support from the College of Medicine, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

BACTRAC study

Leveraging thrombectomy technology even further, Fraser, Bix, and Keith Pennypacker, PhD, professor of neurology and associated director of the UK Center for Advanced Translational Stroke Science, are developing a stroke tissue bank that will greatly enhance stroke research through increased molecular understanding of the injury. The BACTRAC study is the first to collect and analyze both the stroke clots and surrounding blood. The samples are obtained as a matter of standard thrombectomy procedure and require nothing additional. The process does, however, rely on a highly collaborative process of tissue collection and informed consent that will enable inclusion of nearly every thrombectomy case at UK.

“We have a pager – we call it the Thrombectomy Pager – and when it goes off, everyone involved swarms together. One of the people who carries a pager is a researcher who will come in and process the samples on the spot. There’s centrifuge right outside the angio suite,” Frasier said.

Clot and blood samples are analyzed to examine protein, genetic and blood gas changes that occur at the stroke site. From early analysis of their first samples, the team is already noticing surprising changes in the blood and tissue where strokes occur. The observations could eventually allow for more targeted treatment of strokes.

“We’re getting the first glimpse of molecular events that are occurring due to the stroke, and some of these events are involved in signaling the immune system,” Pennypacker said. “The inflammation response is essential for the healing of the injury, but sometimes it can overreact and cause additional damage. So if we can get a handle on these molecular events, we can possibly eliminate the molecules that cause excess damage without blocking the beneficial immune molecules.”

In analyzing the first samples they collected, the team has observed calcium depletion in the blood and blood vessel distal to the clot, as well as changes in protein and RNA related to gene expression.

“We’re discovering things about stroke that no one knew six months ago – incredible changes even in single samples that could really help us understand stroke on the very acute, early side of things, which has been very difficult to study until now,” Fraser said.

Eventually, they hope, the BACTRAC study will include enough stroke cases that researchers will be able see how stroke affects people differently based on age, sex and other health conditions, such as obesity or diabetes. One limitation of current stroke research is that animal research models use predominantly young, homogeneous male mice, whereas the human population that experiences stroke is older, less healthy and much more diverse.

Such a diverse patient population is one of the main problems in finding a cure for stroke.

“In basic science animal models, we mostly use a homogeneous population, and we’ve found that they’re receptive to experimental therapies in ways that we don’t always see in humans,” Pennypacker said. “But, if we have a huge database with thousands of patients that allows us to pull out various groups and see the differences in their response to stroke, it could give insight into different treatments that work better for people based on age, sex and other health conditions.”

Initial support for the BACTRAC tissue bank comes from the UK Department of Neurology Pilot Grant Program, which funds investigator-initiated pilot studies. Further grant applications are currently underway.

Translating discoveries through team science

The multidisciplinary innovations of the MAVARIC and BACTRAC studies, which unite patient care and lab research, depend on the combined expertise of scientists, clinicians and research staff.

“There aren’t a lot of places in the U.S. that have this translational integration for stroke between basic research and clinical research,” Bix said. “What makes an academic medical center special is that we are at the cutting edge of developing new therapies. Where’s the next cure going to come from? A place like UK – an academic medical center running clinical trials it has developed itself, where people are pushing the envelope.”

To learn more these studies, visit the MAVARIC and BACTRAC clinical trial webpages.

As a designated Comprehensive Stroke Center by The Joint Commission, UK HealthCare is distinguished from other stroke centers for meeting the highest standards of care to receive and treat the most complex stroke cases.

The Multidisciplinary Value Program supports innovative, multidisciplinary clinical trials at UK. Learn more here.


Next steps:

  • Researchers are working hard to identify new treatments and strategies to improve health, but they need healthy participants and those with medical conditions to participate in clinical studies. Find out how you can participate in clinical research at UK HealthCare.
  • At the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center, we offer treatment, prevention and rehabilitation services for stroke patients. Learn more about our program.
signs of dementia

Visiting older relatives this holiday? Take time to notice memory changes

If you’re spending time with elderly friends and family members this holiday season, be aware of noticeable changes in their memory and behavior, as these can be early warning signs of dementia.

“If you haven’t seen your elderly loved one in a while, you might be more likely to notice changes in their memory and behavior that worries you,” said Dr. Gregory Jicha of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Here are some early warning signs of dementia that you might notice in an older friend or family member:

  • It’s normal for someone to forget a date or a name but suddenly remember it later. However, pay attention if they ask for the same information repeatedly, or struggle to recall important dates (like their own birthdate).
  • Are they having trouble following a recipe? Problem-solving skills can deteriorate in someone with dementia.
  • Do they get lost when driving to a familiar location? If they have difficulty completing familiar tasks, it might be a sign of dementia.
  • Healthy people occasionally struggle to find the right word, but using the wrong word – particularly if they call something by the wrong name – merits further scrutiny.
  • Poor judgment. Are they giving lots of money to telemarketers or charities? Pay attention to behavior related to important aspects of their life.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Personality changes. Are they suddenly irrational, fearful or suspicious? This can be a symptom of serious memory-related problems.

Next steps:

UK doctoral student combining passions to advance Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment

When Alex Helman began her search for a doctoral program that would allow her to further her knowledge of neuroscience and conduct research on Alzheimer’s disease, she was surprised to add the University of Kentucky to her list.

Initially, she was shocked by the number of people doing research on Alzheimer’s disease, but when she looked more, she found that the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging’s designation as an Alzheimer’s Disease Center by the National Institutes of Health provided numerous opportunities to work on research to advance the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Research opportunities at UK

After her visit to campus, she learned that many of the faculty conducting research were eager to include students as research assistants and there were abundant opportunities to do the work she loved.

“I left my visit thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I want to go to UK.’”

She is now a doctoral candidate in the UK College of Medicine Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. She completed a year of lab rotation and then joined the research staff of Paul Murphy, associate professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry.

Helman currently works on a project in the lab of Elizabeth Head, professor of pharmacology and nutritional sciences, as part of a team conducting a longitudinal study to examine the development of Alzheimer’s disease among people with Down syndrome.

“I’ve always been interested in a range of policy issues but my primary passion has always been science, and for a long time I kept those two things separate,” Helman said.

But, as she paid more attention to politics, she realized the fields of science and politics were more connected than she thought, and she found a role to play in both.

Applying research to policy

For the past 2 1/2 years, Helman has served the Alzheimer’s Association as a liaison between the organization and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr’s office in Lexington. She began her advocacy work as a congressional team member, tasked with working with an assigned legislator to advocate for the policy goals of the organization. For the past year and a half, she has been leading these efforts as an ambassador.

This spring, she will take her passions for policy and science to the next level as a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellow. This fellowship program, offered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, will provide her with the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C., for 12 weeks. She chose to apply to serve on the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine to learn more about policies that improve the retention of women in science, technology, engineering and medicine fields.

Helman will defend her doctoral dissertation this summer and earn her PhD. She hopes to work for the federal government in science policy work, possibly in workforce policy or scientific advising through the American Association for the Advancement of Science policy fellowship.

“If we stay in our labs and don’t advocate for ourselves it’s easy to be forgotten. Your data doesn’t speak for itself; you speak for your data.” She said. “You can do your work, and it’s important to continue to be as unbiased as possible, but our data means nothing if no one values and understands it.”


Next steps:

concussions

Podcast: UK athletic trainer talks childhood concussions

UK HealthCastUK HealthCast is a new podcast series from UK HealthCare featuring in-depth interviews with our experts on a variety of health-related topics. Subscribe to UK HealthCast today wherever you listen to podcasts!

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Not all concussions in young athletes look the same.

They may appear immediately after contact in a game or practice, or they may not show up until much later. They can pass quickly or take months to heal. Although every concussion is different, they are more likely to happen in contact sports, such as football, hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

Parents, coaches and young athletes – listen below to our conversation with Peter Gray, an athletic trainer at the UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and the head athletic trainer at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, to learn more about the symptoms of concussions and what you can do after a concussion occurs.


Next steps:

UK, UK HealthCare leaders take case for opioid addiction funding to Washington

Kentucky is among the states most ravaged by opioid abuse and drug addiction.

But the University of Kentucky – with researchers and clinicians working across a number of colleges and disciplines – is on the front lines of finding solutions.

Leaders from UK Research and UK HealthCare – along with some of the institution’s most prolific researchers – took their stories of hope and challenge to Washington, D.C., recently to make the case with some of the country’s top elected officials about the need to continue federal funding to address drug addiction and abuse.

“The scourge of opioid abuse and addiction is wreaking havoc on Kentucky. Addiction is a disease of despair, victimizing individuals and communities when they are most vulnerable. It does not discriminate by ZIP code or neighborhood; race or ethnicity – it affects us all,” said UK President Eli Capilouto, who led the delegation to Washington.

“Universities across the country are locked in a fight against opioid abuse. The University of Kentucky is among the leaders, working in partnership with local, state and federal stakeholders to stem the tide of this insidious menace.”

A group of UK representatives – including Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Mark Newman, College of Medicine Dean Bob DiPaola, Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis and Vice President for University Relations Tom Harris – joined Capilouto in meetings with top elected officials in the country over the course of three days recently. Officials included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul as well as U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers, Andy Barr, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Jamie Comer and John Yarmuth.

A second team of UK representatives, led by UK’s Vice President for Administration and External Affairs Mark D. Birdwhistell, included faculty from six different colleges who are engaged in substance abuse and addiction research. The university currently has $22.5 million in research funding around these issues as part of UK’s $330 million research enterprise. UK, in fact, received $11.2 million in research funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse last year alone.

“The breadth of ongoing research in substance abuse by our faculty led to vibrant discussions with congressional staff,” Cassis said. “Everyone had the same goal, and all agreed that support for substance research is critical.”

UK’s opioid-focused research team in Washington included:

  • Carrie Oser, a sociology professor examining health service utilization, drug treatment outcomes and infectious disease prevention among rural residents and minorities.
  • Donald Helme, an associate professor in the UK Department of Communication who focuses on media- and school-based campaigns designed to prevent risky behaviors.
  • Alison Davis, an agricultural economics extension professor who has facilitated a local substance abuse coalition in Russell County, Ky., that is adopting strategies and policies to reduce substance abuse.
  • Mark Fillmore, a professor of psychology focusing research on acute and chronic effects of abused drugs on mental capacity.
  • Kristin Ashford, an associate professor of nursing and co-creator of the Perinatal Assistance and Treatment Home (PATHways), which is helping pregnant women who use opioids. Since the program launched in 2014, more than 150 women have received treatment through PATHways; of those, 77 percent who were admitted to labor and delivery tested negative for illicit drug use.
  • Jeffery Talbert, a pharmacy professor who focuses his research on the intersection of policy decisions and health outcomes.
  • April Young, an assistant professor of public health who works with the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and is helping lead a $1.16 million cooperative research effort to build community-grounded health responses to combat opioid abuse in Appalachia.

“Their work is making a difference,” Birdwhistell said. “But they will be the first to tell you that progress is not possible without the support they receive from our lawmakers and federal funding for their research efforts. Together, we can turn the tide, if we remain focused.”


Next steps:

family health history

This holiday season, find out about your family’s health history

Did your grandfather have a heart attack? Did your aunt have a stroke? Did any of your family members have diabetes? How old were they when this happened?

The answers to these questions can help you understand your own disease risk.

And if you don’t know the answers, the holidays are a perfect time to find out. If you’re reuniting with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives during the holiday season, take some time to learn more about your family health history.

Why your health history matters

Your family history gives you and your doctor crucial information that will guide your healthcare plan.

While you can’t counteract your genetics, if you have a family history of heart disease, for example, you can change your behavior to reduce your risk. By committing to healthier habits for yourself – such as improving your diet, exercising more and quitting smoking – you also become a role model for family members who share your genetic traits.

A family history can be helpful for more than just heart disease, since genetics can play a role in many other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, some cancers and osteoporosis.

Knowledge is power

Even if your family has a clean bill of health, there are other factors, such as race or ethnicity, that can increase your risk for heart disease. For example, African-Americans have higher risks for diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. One in three Hispanics will suffer from high blood pressure, and nearly half will have high cholesterol levels.

Knowing your family’s health history is one important step to help you avoid these health concerns. Talk to your relatives this holiday season and then then share this information with your healthcare provider, who can tailor a plan to help you counteract the potential negative effects of your genetics.


Next steps: