Decreasing emergency room wait times

The past two decades have seen emergency department (ED) overcrowding become a major problem nationwide that increases patient risk and decreases patient satisfaction with emergency services. In an attempt to address the issue, a pilot study at UC San Diego Health System’s ED is using telemedicine as a way to help address overcrowding and decrease patient wait times.

When the ED becomes busy, an offsite doctor is paged who then remotely links to a telemedicine station at the hospital. Guided by high-fidelity sound and video, the telemedicine physician can examine a patient’s eyes, ears, nose, throat and skin, as well as listen to heart and lung through the module. Laboratory and imaging tests can be ordered and results reviewed. As a final step, an onsite attending physician reassesses the patient to confirm findings and actions, as well as address any unanswered patient questions.

The study, called Emergency Department Telemedicine Initiative to Rapidly Accommodate in Times of Emergency (EDTITRATE), is the first of its kind in California. Six rooms in the Hillcrest ED can currently accommodate the telemedicine module. If the use of a telemedicine evaluation can be shown to be safe and effective, it may shift how care in the emergency department is delivered.

—More information at

Growth and ripening of plants

An international group of scientists, led by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, have traced the thousands of genes in a plant that are activated once ethylene gas is released.  Ethylene, known as the “ripening hormone,” is responsible for changes in texture, softening, color and other processes involved in fruit and plant ripening.

The researchers looked at what happens in Arabidopsis thaliana – a plant related to cabbage and mustard – after ethylene caused activation of a master transcription factor that controls gene expression. They found that thousands of genes in the plant responded.

Because ethylene functions as a key hormone in all plants, knowing the genes ethylene activates will enable researchers to pinpoint and manipulate key genes and proteins that can ultimately lead to new crop strains able to slow down growth when needed, accelerate or prevent ripening, retard rotting or make plants more resistant to disease.

—Findings appear in the journal eLIFE. News release at

Brain’s “dark side” key to cocaine addiction

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found evidence that an emotion-related brain region called the central amygdala — whose activity promotes feelings of malaise and unhappiness — plays a major role in sustaining cocaine addiction.

In experiments with rats, TSRI researchers found signs that cocaine-induced changes in this brain system contribute to anxiety-like behavior and other unpleasant symptoms of drug withdrawal — symptoms that typically drive an addict to keep using. When the researchers blocked specific receptors in this brain region, the rats’ signs of addiction abated.

The finding represents an alternative to the pleasure-seeking, “positive” motivational circuitry that is traditionally emphasized in addiction. While changes in pleasure-seeking brain networks may dominate the early period of drug use, scientists have been finding evidence of changes in the “negative” motivational circuitry as well — changes that move a person to take a drug not for its euphoric effects but for its (temporary) alleviation of the anxiety of drug withdrawal.

When this brain change occurs, it marks the transition to more persistent drug dependency.

—The study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Jun 19, 2013. Filed under Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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