Health Briefs

OT Alumna Helps Develop Hydrotherapy for Preemies

Makenna Brown Tucker, BS’15, OTD’19, wanted to be a pediatric occupational therapist when she graduated, but never imagined working with the tiniest of patients.

When she began the research portion of her doctorate in occupational therapy at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center–Bergan Mercy, she “fell in love” with premature infants and “how occupational therapy (OT) can impact their lives.”

She focused her research on hydrotherapy — performing therapy in warm water — with preemies and, at the request of Lisa Bader, BSOT’96, Bergan’s NICU occupational therapist, helped develop a program for the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. Bader had seen a presentation on neonatal hydrotherapy at a conference two years earlier and was keenly interested.

“But the time involved to start some-thing like that is intensive,” Bader says.

“I knew Makenna would be with us for 16 weeks, and I knew she could get the project done. She did a literature review, wrote the protocol, passed it through the doctors and nurse practitioners, and implemented it.”

Bader says her NICU has been having excellent results giving hydrotherapy to two or three babies per week, sending them home sooner and stronger.

Tucker, now an occupational therapist at CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, Nebraska, started OT in the NICU there and hopes to implement hydrotherapy as well.

Play Important for Children

Let children play. That was the message delivered by Peter Gray, PhD, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, at the inaugural Ware-Johnk Lecture this fall. The lecture series, established by a gift from former faculty member Mark Ware, PhD, and his wife, Connie Johnk, BA’82, is intended to promote interest in psychological scholarship and how it relates to everyday life.

“We are in the midst of an experiment in which we are in some ways for the first time in human history raising children without real free play,” says Gray, author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.

Time spent playing, he says, serves a critical role in enabling children to develop reasoning skills, learn the art of compromise and hone problem-solving skills that can include mathematical and spatial awareness.

Diabetes Care in Rural Communities

Creighton has been awarded two grants to improve medical outcomes for families of children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in rural areas of Nebraska and Iowa, where access to pediatric endocrinologists is challenging.

“There are significant differences in the health outcomes for those who live closer to areas where specialized care is available,” says Vanessa Jewell, PhD, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, who is leading the project to identify treatment barriers in rural communities and develop solutions to overcome service gaps.

‘Fitness Fingerprints’ and Cancer Growth

Scientists have a better understanding of the bully-like behavior of cancer cells that allows them to aggressively grow, overtake neighboring cells and spread in humans. According to Creighton cancer researcher Laura Hansen, PhD, key findings of a study published in the journal Nature provide new clues for how to intervene for therapy.

Hansen, a co-author of the paper “Fitness fingerprints of human cells promote competitive growth in cancer,” says the results are likely to promote intense study of the “fitness fingerprints” on the surface of cells that play a determining role in their life and death.

Hansen, associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, and her colleagues demonstrated for the first time in human cells that cell competition is involved in the expansion of cancer cells at the expense of their less-fit neighbors. The findings show that a human protein (called Flower) plays a role in determining cell fitness, and the development and progression of cancer.

“These findings enhance our understanding of the factors that make some tumors more aggressive than others, and our understanding of the factors that allow tumors to metastasize to specific locations,” says Rajan Gogna, PhD, the lead investigator of the study, and a former Creighton faculty member now with the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal.

Study Looks at Gum Disease

School of Dentistry associate professor D. Roselyn Cerutis, PhD, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study a potential therapy that may reduce inflammation and bone loss in periodontal (gum) disease.

Cerutis is investigating the role of a receptor, LPA1, in regulating the production of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), and whether blocking or reducing LPA production in the mouth helps control the inflammation and bone loss of periodontal disease. She says the LPA system has been extensively researched in cancer and heart disease, but not in periodontal disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of American adults age 30 and older have periodontal disease, which also has been linked to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Cerutis has been studying the role of LPA in periodontal disease with collaborators in the dental school for the past 20 years. “We are the only researchers worldwide who have dedicated ourselves systematically to a long-term research program looking at LPA’s actions in the mouth,” she says.

Addressing Physician Burnout

A new Creighton study aimed at reducing physician burnout is looking at whether increasing time spent with patients and cultivating deeper connections with them can boost the well-being of health care professionals.

Creighton’s study is one of 33 selected this year from among 200 proposals through an initiative of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the group that sets educational standards for preparing physicians.

The study is being led by Prasanna Tadi, MD, an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and neurologist with CHI Health, and includes a team of Creighton residents.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, more than half of U.S. physicians experience burnout, a syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.

A unique aspect of the Creighton study is its wide reach. In addition to residents and physicians, medical students, pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dentists and nurses will participate in the study.

“Our hope is that with this study we will be able to show improvement in multiple areas of well-being and relieve the pressures physicians are facing,” Tadi says. “We are trying to change the culture of patient care locally, but it has the potential to make a big impact across multiple disciplines nationally.”