A Department of Veterans Affairs initiative targeting staph infections in hospitalized patients has produced positive results, according to data released by the VA.
Among VA patients in ICUs between 2007 and 2012, healthcare-associated MRSA infection rates dropped 72% — from 1.64 to 0.46 per 1,000 patient days. Infection rates dropped 66% — from 0.47 to 0.16 per 1,000 patient days — for patients treated in non-ICU hospital units.
“These results are striking,” Carolyn Clancy, MD, VA’s interim under secretary for health, said in a news release. “Healthcare-associated infections are a major challenge throughout the healthcare industry, but we have found in VA that consistently applying some simple preventive strategies can make a very big difference, and that difference is being recognized.”
VA’s prevention practices consist of patient screening programs for MRSA, contact precautions for hospitalized patients found to have MRSA, and hand hygiene reminders with hand sanitizer stations placed in common areas, patient wards and specialty clinics throughout medical centers, according to the release. Practices are reinforced via computerized reminders, training, measurement and continual feedback.
MRSA infections are a serious global healthcare issue and are difficult to treat because the bacterium is resistant to many antibiotics. In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2012 MRSA surveillance report from its Active Bacterial Core surveillance, the CDC cites 75,309 cases of invasive MRSA infections and 9,670 deaths due to invasive MRSA in 2012, according to the release.
“The VA healthcare system is able to implement and assess these prevention strategies,” Martin Evans, MD, director of VA’s MRSA control program, said in the release. “What we’ve learned translates into better healthcare for the veterans we serve.”
By Eun Kyung Kim
James Wathen had stopped eating. Frail and barely able to speak, the 73-year-old whispered to a health care worker that he missed his dog, a one-eyed Chihuahua he hadn't seen since paramedics whisked him away to a Kentucky hospital weeks earlier.
So a team of nurses hustled to learn the fate of Wathen's beloved pet, Bubba, hoping a reunion might provide some peace and comfort to their heartbroken and deteriorating patient — even if arranging one meant bending ahospital rule against pets.
A series of phone calls eventually led the nurses to the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter, where Bubba was taken and placed with a foster family, said Mary-Ann Smyth, president of the non-profit facility.
Coincidentally, Bubba had also recently fallen ill.
"The dog quit eating a week ago, which is very strange," Smyth told TODAY.com. "The dog didn’t know where James was and James didn't know where the dog was and believe it or not, they both stopped eating at about the same time."
Plans were made to bring the little pooch, who lacked his bottom row of teeth along with his right eye, to the hospital over the weekend.
“He was so sad at first. We had him wrapped in a baby blanket and he was shivering,” Smyth said. “The minute we got about 20 steps from this guy’s room — I kid you not — his little head went up. His eyes got real bright and he was like a different dog.”
She says a similar transformation took place in Wathen during his roughly 30-minute hospital reunion Saturday with Bubba.
"They didn’t think James was going to make it," she recalled being told during her initial visit to the hospital. “I was 10 feet from his bed and you could barely understand him because he was so hard to hear. The nurse had to lean up right against his face to hear what he was saying."
But he slowly perked up as his dog snuggled with him on his bed. By the time Bubba returned for a second visit Tuesday, visible changes were noticeable in both man and his best friend.
"He’s done a complete turnaround. He's speaking, he's sitting up, he’s eating. He doesn't look like the same guy," said Smyth, who didn't attend the second visit but saw Wathen in footage recorded by the shelter's director. "And the dog is eating and doing better now, too."
Baptist Health Corbin, the hospital treating Wathen, did not return repeated messages left by TODAY.com seeking comment.
But nurse Kimberly Probus told WKYT-TV a team of nurses went looking for Bubba after "one of our social workers realized it was mourning the loss of the dog that was making our patient even worse and emotionally unhealthy."
Smyth said she's not surprised at the healing power pets provide their owners.
"I hope this story will show to people the tremendous difference that animals can make in people’s lives," she said. She also hopes it will encourage people to think about rescuing pets from shelters like hers, which is rebuilding its facility after its previous home burned down in a fire last November.
“One of the biggest problems we face is the way some people think of animals. People just don’t see animals as creatures and beings, they see them as property,” she said. “I hope people understand they’re not 'its,' they’re 'beings.'”
The UCLA Health Interpreter/Translation and Deaf Services program provides services to all UCLA Health inpatients, outpatients, and their relatives at no cost. Every attempt is made to provide services in any language. The service will be provided by an in-person interpreter, video conference or by telephone.
By JESSICA FIRGER
When Donna Tookes learned she had breast cancer last winter, the 59-year-old thought she had no choice but to accept one of the most dreaded side-effects of chemotherapy: losing her mane of silver hair, a feature that strangers young and old frequently stopped to admire.
"I had resigned myself," Tookes told CBS News. "I had purchased an array of scarves, about 10. And I actually practiced tying them."
Tookes was diagnosed with breast cancer in January after her annual mammogram, when her doctors detected some mild calcifications in her right breast. These clusters of white flecks visible on her scan indicated there might be something seriously wrong. After a few subsequent tests, Tookes learned she had HER2 breast cancer, an especially aggressive form that can be difficult to treat. Though her doctors caught the cancer early, they wanted to be certain it would never return, which meant a unilateral mastectomy followed by 12 rounds of punishing chemotherapy.
"You have a consultation before you start chemotherapy," said Tookes, who lives with her husband and children in Stamford, Connecticut, and has worked for more than three decades as a flight attendant. "I was told I would lose my hair. And then the nurse assured me, she told me 'you're beautiful,' and that I was one of the only ones who could carry the bald look because I have that bone structure."
But her family could see that losing her hair would take a serious toll on her psyche. Tookes had heard about some treatment in Europe that helps prevent chemo-related hair loss, though she didn't know many details. Secretly, her husband began to conduct research. He wrote to friends in Sweden, who were able to obtain information about a new and innovative therapy called a scalp cooling cap. He soon found out that Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City was involved in a clinical trial on the device, known as the DigniCap System, which is worn by a patient during chemotherapy transfusions.
The snug cap is secured onto a patient's head each time she undergoes chemotherapy. It chills the scalp down to 5 degrees Celsius so that the blood vessels surrounding the hair roots contract, meaning that less of the toxins from chemo enter the hair follicle. This minimizes -- and in some cases completely stops -- a patient's hair from falling out.
At first, Tookes was slightly skeptical, but her family finally convinced her to move her cancer treatment from her hospital in Connecticut to Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City.
Dr. Paula Klein, assistant professor of medicine, hematology and medical oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and principal investigator for the clinical trial, told CBS News the device has been effective at limiting hair loss in nearly all of her patients enrolled.
"Unfortunately, in breast cancer the two most active agents are associated with significant hair loss," said Klein. "For many women with early stage breast cancer, they are getting chemotherapy for prevention of recurrence."
Klein said overall, women who use the cap lose just 25 percent of their hair. There are some patients who lose more and a lucky handful who lost no hair at all.
The clinical trial is now in its final phase. The company behind the cap, Dignitana, will be submitting results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of November, and hope to win FDA approval for the cap in 2015.
For women struggling through a difficult medical ordeal, the benefit is significant. Research published in 2008 in the journal Psycho-Oncology looked at 38 existing studies on breast cancer treatment and quality of life issues, and found hair loss consistently ranked the most troubling side effect of treatment for women. "Significant alopecia [hair loss] is problematic," said Klein. "Every time you look in the mirror, you remember you're getting cancer treatment."
Many breast cancer survivors report that even when their hair finally grows back after chemotherapy it is often different in color or texture than the hair they had before, due to the period of time it takes the hair follicles to recover from the damage caused by the drugs.
Moreover, the feelings associated with hair loss impact nearly every aspect of a breast cancer patient's life -- from her self-image and sexuality to whether or not she is comfortable at work or even walking into the supermarket to buy a quart of milk.
When she first prepared for treatment, Tookes worried how people would react to her appearance if she lost all of her hair. But it didn't happen. Seven weeks into chemo, she finally felt confident enough to return the unused wardrobe of scarves. She still had a full head of hair. Because the cooling therapy was used only on her scalp, Tookes did still lose her eyebrows and "everything south of there."
Tookes is now cancer-free and says the therapy helped her stay optimistic about her prognosis. "My mother used to say, you just comb your hair and get yourself together and you'll get through hard times," she said.
By MIKE STOBBE
For more than two months, health officials have been struggling to understand the size of a national wave of severe respiratory illnesses caused by an unusual virus. This week, they expect the wave to start looking a whole lot bigger.
But that's because a new test will be speeding through a backlog of cases. Starting Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using a new test to help the agency process four or five times more specimens per day that it has been.
The test is a yes/no check for enterovirus 68, which since August has been fingered as the cause of hundreds of asthma-like respiratory illnesses in children — some so severe the patients needed a breathing machine. The virus is being investigated as a cause of at least 6 deaths.
It will largely replace a test which can distinguish a number of viruses, but has a much longer turnaround.
The result? Instead of national case counts growing by around 30 a day, they're expected to jump to 90 or more.
But for at least a week or two, the anticipated flood of new numbers will reflect what was seen in the backlog of about 1,000 specimens from September. The numbers will not show what's been happening more recently, noted Mark Pallansch, director of the CDC's division of viral diseases.
Enterovirus 68 is one of a pack of viruses that spread around the country every year around the start of school, generally causing cold-like illnesses. Those viruses tend to wane after September, and some experts think that's what's been happening.
One of the places hardest hit by the enterovirus 68 wave was Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. The specialized pediatric hospital was flooded with cases of wheezing, very sick children in August, hitting a peak of nearly 300 in the last week of the month.
But that kind of patient traffic has steadily declined since mid-September, said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious diseases physician there.
"Now it's settled down" to near-normal levels, Newland said. Given the seasonality of the virus, "it makes sense it would kind of be going away," he added.
The germ was first identified in the U.S. in 1962, and small numbers of cases have been regularly reported since 1987. Because it's not routinely tested for, it may have spread widely in previous years without being identified in people who just seemed to have a cold, health officials have said.
But some viruses seem to surge in multi-year cycles, and it's possible that enterovirus surged this year for the first time in quite a while. If that's true, it may have had an unusually harsh impact because there were a large number of children who had never been infected with it before and never acquired immunity, Newland said.
Whatever the reason, the virus gained national attention in August when hospitals in Kansas City and Chicago saw severe breathing illnesses in kids in numbers they never see at that time of year.
Health officials began finding enterovirus 68. The CDC, in Atlanta, has been receiving specimens from severely ill children all over the country and doing about 80 percent of the testing for the virus. The test has been used for disease surveillance, but not treatment. Doctors give over-the-counter medicines for milder cases, and provide oxygen or other supportive care for more severe ones.
The CDC has been diagnosing enterovirus 68 in roughly half of the specimens sent in, Pallansch said. Others have been diagnosed with an assortment of other respiratory germs.
As of Friday, lab tests by the CDC have confirmed illness caused by the germ in 691 people in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC is expected to post new numbers Tuesday and Wednesday.
Aside from the CDC, labs in California, Indiana, Minnesota and New York also have been doing enterovirus testing and contributing to the national count. It hasn't been determined if or when the states will begin using the new test, which was developed by a CDC team led by Allan Nix.
Meanwhile, the virus also is being eyed as possible factor in muscle weakness and paralysis in at least 27 children and adults in a dozen states. That includes at least 10 in the Denver area, and a cluster of three seen at Children's Mercy, Newland said.
By Catharine Paddock PhD
At present, diagnosis of lung cancer relies on an invasive biopsy that is only effective after tumors are bigger than 3 cm or even metastatic. Earlier detection would vastly improve patients' chances of survival. Now a team of researchers is developing a "lab-on-a-chip" that promises to detect lung cancer - and possibly other deadly cancers - much earlier, using only a small drop of a patient's blood.
In the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Yong Zeng, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, and colleagues report a breakthrough study describing their invention.
For some time, scientists have been excited by the idea of testing for disease biomarkers in "exosomes" - tiny vesicles or bags of molecules that cells, including cancer cells - release now and again. When they first spotted them, researchers thought exosomes were just for getting rid of cell waste, but now they know they also do other important things such as carry messages to other cells near and far.
The challenge, however, is developing a technology that is small enough to target and analyze the contents of exosomes - mostly nucleic acids and proteins - to find unique biomarkers of disease. This is because exosomes are tiny - around 30 to 150 nanometers (nm) in diameter - much smaller, for example, than red blood cells.
Current methods for separating out and testing exosomes require several steps of ultracentrifugation - a lengthy and inefficient lab procedure, as Prof. Zeng explains:
"There aren't many technologies out there that are suitable for efficient isolation and sensitive molecular profiling of exosomes. First, current exosome isolation protocols are time-consuming and difficult to standardize. Second, conventional downstream analyses on collected exosomes are slow and require large samples, which is a key setback in clinical development of exosomal biomarkers."
Now, using microfluid technology, he and his colleagues have developed a lab-on-a-chip that can analyze the contents of targeted exosomes and spot the early signs of deadly cancer. They have already successfully tested it on lung cancer.
Lab-on-a-chip device uses smaller samples, is faster, cheaper and more sensitive
The new device, which uses much smaller samples, promises to produce results faster, more cheaply, with better sensitivity compared to conventional benchtop instruments, as Prof. Zeng continues to explain:
"A lab-on-a-chip shrinks the pipettes, test tubes and analysis instruments of a modern chemistry lab onto a microchip-sized wafer."
The technology behind the device - known as microfluidics - came out of new semiconductor electronics and has been under intensive development since the 1990s, he adds:
"Essentially, it allows precise manipulation of minuscule fluid volumes down to one trillionth of a liter or less to carry out multiple laboratory functions, such as sample purification, running of chemical and biological reactions, and analytical measurement."
Unlike breast and colon cancer, there is no widely accepted screening tool for lung cancer, which in most cases is first diagnosed based on symptoms that normally indicate lung function is already impaired.
To diagnose lung cancer, doctors have to perform a biopsy - remove a piece of tissue from the lung and send it to a lab for molecular analysis. It is rarely possible to do this in the early stages as tumors are too small to be spotted on scans.
"In contrast, our blood-based test is minimally invasive, inexpensive, and more sensitive, thus suitable for large population screening to detect early-stage tumors," says Prof. Zeng, adding that the technique offers a general platform for detecting exosomes from cancer cells. The team has already used the device to test for ovarian cancer, and in theory, says Prof. Zeng, it should also be applicable to other cancer types.
"Our long-term goal is to translate this technology into clinical investigation of the pathological implication of exosomes in tumor development. Such knowledge would help develop better predictive biomarkers and more efficient targeted therapy to improve the clinical outcome," he adds.
The team has received further funding from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to further develop the lab-on-a-chip.
In March 2013, Medical News Today learned how another team of scientists is developing a lab-on-a-chip that is implanted under the skin to track levels of substances in the blood and transmit the results wirelessly to a smartphone or other receiving device.
By Brittany Maynard
Editor's note: Brittany Maynard is a volunteer advocate for the nation's leading end-of-life choice organization, Compassion and Choices. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler. Watch Brittany and her family tell her story at www.thebrittanyfund.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- On New Year's Day, after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, I learned that I had brain cancer.
I was 29 years old. I'd been married for just over a year. My husband and I were trying for a family.
Our lives devolved into hospital stays, doctor consultations and medical research. Nine days after my initial diagnoses, I had a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of my temporal lobe. Both surgeries were an effort to stop the growth of my tumor.
In April, I learned that not only had my tumor come back, but it was more aggressive. Doctors gave me a prognosis of six months to live.
Because my tumor is so large, doctors prescribed full brain radiation. I read about the side effects: The hair on my scalp would have been singed off. My scalp would be left covered with first-degree burns. My quality of life, as I knew it, would be gone.
After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.
I considered passing away in hospice care at my San Francisco Bay-area home. But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.
Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that.
I did not want this nightmare scenario for my family, so I started researching death with dignity. It is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable.
I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.
We had to uproot from California to Oregon, because Oregon is one of only five states where death with dignity is authorized.
I met the criteria for death with dignity in Oregon, but establishing residency in the state to make use of the law required a monumental number of changes. I had to find new physicians, establish residency in Portland, search for a new home, obtain a new driver's license, change my voter registration and enlist people to take care of our animals, and my husband, Dan, had to take a leave of absence from his job. The vast majority of families do not have the flexibility, resources and time to make all these changes.
I've had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.
I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?
Now that I've had the prescription filled and it's in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. And if I decide to change my mind about taking the medication, I will not take it.
Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.
Now, I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love. And I know that I have a safety net.
I hope for the sake of my fellow American citizens that I'll never meet that this option is available to you. If you ever find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, I hope that you would at least be given the same choice and that no one tries to take it from you.
When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, "I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next." I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully. I can't imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice.
What are your thoughts about "death with dignity"?
Ashley and Tyson Gardner of Pleasant Grove, Utah, tried to conceive for eight years when they turned to in vitro fertilization this summer.
Boy, did it work. Or rather, girl, did it work. In July, they got the “surprise of our lives” when they went in for an ultrasound and found out they are expecting two sets of identical twins -- all girls.
A photo of the couple looking shocked while holding the ultrasound images has gone viral on their Facebook page, which also features photos of the moment they first found out Ashley was pregnant.
"My whole goal in opening up about this is to promote infertility awareness," she said in a recent YouTube video. "It's not something that's talked about a lot and it's a really hard trial that people go through."
Ashley's fertility problems were caused by endometriosis, so the couple at first tried intrauterine insemination, she told BabyCenter.com. When that didn't work, they tried IVF, which cost them $12,000 out of their own pockets.
Ashley is now 18 weeks along and she and her husband are busy trying to pick names for their four girls.
"We were so blessed," she writes on her Facebook page.
By Marie Ellis
Imagine swallowing a pill with tiny needles instead of getting an injection. Then again, imagine swallowing a pill with tiny needles. It may sound painful, but according to the researchers who developed the novel capsule - which could replace painful injections - there are no harmful side effects.
The researchers, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), have published the results of their study - which tested the microneedle pill in the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of pigs - in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Though most of us would probably prefer swallowing a pill over having an injection, many drugs cannot be given in pill form because they are broken down in the stomach before being absorbed.
Biopharmaceuticals made from large proteins, such as antibodies - known as "biologics" - are used to treat cancer, arthritis and Crohn's disease, and also include vaccines, recombinant DNA and RNA.
"The large size of these biologic drugs makes them nonabsorbable," explains lead author MIT graduate student Carl Schoellhammer. "And before they even would be absorbed, they're degraded in your GI tract by acids and enzymes that just eat up the molecules and make them inactive."
In an effort to design a capsule that is capable of delivering a wide range of drugs - while preventing degradation and effectively injecting the medicine into the GI tract - Schoellhammer and colleagues constructed the capsule from acrylic, including a reservoir for the drug that is coated with hollow, 5 mm long needles made of stainless steel.
The capsule measures 2 cm long and 1 cm in diameter.
Needle capsule worked safely and effectively in pigs
The team notes that previous studies involving humans who have accidentally swallowed sharp objects have suggested swallowing a capsule coated with short needles could be safe. They explain that there are no pain receptors in the GI tract and that, as a result, patients would not feel any pain.
But to assess whether their capsule could safely and effectively deliver the drugs, the researchers tested the pill in pigs, using insulin in the drug reservoir.
The capsules took more than a week to move through the whole digestive tract, and there were no traces of tissue damage, the researchers say. Additionally, the microneedles effectively injected insulin into the lining of the pigs' stomachs, small intestines and colons, which resulted in their blood glucose levels dropping.
Co-lead author Giovanni Traverso, a research fellow at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and gastroenterologist at MGH, notes that the pigs' reduction in blood glucose was faster and larger than the drop observed from insulin injection.
"The kinetics are much better and much faster-onset than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration," he says. "For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency."
'Oral delivery of drugs is a major challenge'
Though they used insulin for their tests in pigs, the researchers say they envision their capsule being used to deliver biologics to humans.
"This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug," says Traverso.
Prof. Samir Mitragotri, a professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara - who was not involved in the research - says:
"This is a very interesting approach. Oral delivery of drugs is a major challenge, especially for protein drugs. There is tremendous motivation on various fronts for finding other ways to deliver drugs without using the standard needle and syringe."
In terms of future modifications, the team plans to alter the capsule so that contractions of the digestive tract slowly squeeze the drug out of the capsule as it travels through the body, and they also want to make the needles out of degradable polymers and sugar that break off, becoming embedded in the gut lining and slowly disintegrating.
A British-American scientist and a pair of Norwegian researchers were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discovering “an inner GPS, in the brain,” that makes navigation possible for virtually all creatures.
John O’Keefe, 75, a British-American scientist, will share half of the prize of 8 million kronor, or $1.1 million, in what is considered the most prestigious scientific award. May-Britt Moser, 51, and Edvard I. Moser, 52, who are married, will share the other half, said the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which chooses the laureates.
The three scientists’ discoveries “have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries — how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment,” the institute said in a news release.
The positioning system in the brain that they discovered helps us know where we are, find our way from place to place and store the information for the next time, said Goran K. Hansson, secretary of the Karolinska’s Nobel Committee, in announcing the laureates.
The researchers documented that certain cells are responsible for higher cognitive function that steers the navigational system, the committee said.
Dr. O’Keefe began using neurophysiological methods in the late 1960s to study how the brain controls behavior. In 1971 he discovered the first component of the inner navigational system in rats. He identified nerve cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that were always activated when a rat was at a certain location. He called them “place cells” and showed that the cells registered not only what they saw, but also what they did not see, by building up inner maps in different environments.
Dr. O’Keefe was born in New York City and graduated from the City College of New York. He earned a Ph.D. in physiological psychology at McGill University in Montreal, in 1967, and moved for postdoctoral training to University College London, where he remains. He is a professor of cognitive neuroscience.
In 2005, the Mosers discovered a second crucial component of the brain’s positioning system by identifying another type of nerve cell that permits coordination and positioning. The scientists, who work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, called the cells grid cells. While mapping connections to the hippocampus in rats moving about a room in a laboratory, “they discovered an astonishing pattern of activity in a nearby part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex,” the Nobel committee said.
When the rat passed multiple locations, the cells formed a hexagonal grid. Each cell activated in unique spatial patterns. Their research showed “how both ‘place’ and ‘grid’ cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate,” the committee said.
The Mosers grew up in rural Norway and came from nonacademic families. May-Britt was born in Fosnavag and Edvard in Alesund. Although they went to the same high school, they did not know each other well until they were undergraduates at the University of Oslo. They married while they were college students and have two daughters. Both are professors at the university in Trondheim.
At one point they were visiting scientists at University College London, studying under Dr. O’Keefe.
The three also won Columbia University’s Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize last year for their discoveries.
Only a handful of married couples have shared a Nobel Prize, and the Mosers are only the second in the medicine category, which has been awarded since 1901. Fewer than a dozen women have been named laureates in medicine.
Evidence that place and grid cells exist in humans comes from recent studies using brain imaging techniques and from patients who have undergone neurosurgery.
The laureates’ findings may eventually lead to a better understanding of the spatial losses that occur in Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are often damaged in early stages of Alzheimer’s, with affected individuals’ losing their way and failing to recognize the environment. The findings also open new avenues for understanding cognitive processes like memory, thinking and planning, the Nobel Committee said.
According to The Associated Press, May-Britt Moser said the couple was elated. “This is such a great honor for all of us and all the people who have worked with us and supported us,” she said in a telephone interview with The A.P. “We are going to continue and hopefully do even more groundbreaking work in the future.”
Her husband was flying when the prize was announced, she said, and he later told the Norwegian news agency NTB that he learned about it when he landed and turned on his cellphone, to a barrage of messages and calls. “I didn’t know anything. When I got off the plane there was a representative there with a bouquet of flowers who said ‘congratulations on the prize,’ ” The Associated Press reported.
The laureates traditionally receive their awards at a banquet in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize’s creator, Alfred Nobel, an industrialist and inventor of dynamite.