Newswise — Below is a brief roundup of news and story ideas from the experts at UCLA Health. For more information on these stories or for help on other stories, please contact us at [email protected].

Researchers say virtual reality may be a promising supplemental teaching tool in medical education Researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA studied the perceptions, demand for, and experiences of medical students using virtual reality (VR) as a learning tool. Sixteen first through fourth year medical students were surveyed before and after an immersive VR anatomy lesson. They assessed their attitudes towards VR, their exposure to this technology, and modes of preparation for the cadaver lab. Over 90% of students said using VR is a better learning tool compared to a traditional lecture and 94% said that VR should be offered as a learning tool and would use the tool if offered. Given these results, the researchers claim VR is a cost-effective, viable tool that can enhance and complement anatomy instruction. Read the study in Frontiers.

Insights from a community survey on gender-affirming hormone therapy with estrogen By developing a survey guided by community input, UCLA researchers lay the groundwork for more effective hormone therapy trials tailored to gender-diverse individuals seeking estrogen treatment. The survey was distributed online to individuals interested in gender-affirming hormone therapy. Over 1200 people responded. The top treatment goals included improving life satisfaction, appearing more feminine and enhancing mental health. The most desired physical changes were reducing facial hair, altering breast shape or size and modifying body shape. However, there was substantial variation in patient-centered goals. For example, while changing scalp hair patterns was the feature most frequently rated as “low priority” or “lowest priority,” almost 60% of individuals still rated it as “highest priority” or “high priority.” Participants also emphasized the importance of future research comparing different methods of estrogen administration for feminization. These findings highlight the diverse goals and experiences of those seeking gender-affirming hormone therapy. They underscore the need for future clinical trials to be closely aligned with the preferences and needs of the gender-diverse community. Read the study in Hormones.

Researchers uncover regulation of lactate production by hexokinases binding to mitochondria in single cells During hypoxia, characterized by having low levels of oxygen in our body, accumulation of lactate may be a key factor in acidosis-induced tissue damage. According to new findings from a team of scientists from the Department of Physiology, the division of Cardiology and the CNSI at UCLA, the binding of hexokinase to the outer membrane of mitochondria may have a protective effect under these conditions. A previous study from this team found that pyruvate is required for the transformation and utilization of lactate by mitochondria. Building on these findings, researchers have uncovered another aspect of lactate metabolism which may be detrimental as a result of its accumulation when mitochondria are inhibited. Findings show that this process is regulated by the interaction of catalytic active hexokinases  with the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM) and that lactate accumulation resulting from inhibition of mitochondrial function is prevented by binding of catalytically active hexokinase to OMM. These findings illuminate the role that this process can play in the protection against ischemic injuries. Read the study in Plos One.

Machine learning algorithm identifies individuals who experience the largest reduction in depression risk from Medicaid coverage Previous research has demonstrated that Medicaid coverage reduces the risk for developing depression among recipients, but the question is who benefits most from coverage. Using a tool called machine learning causal forest to analyze data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, a research team that includes senior author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, associate professor in residence of medicine at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, found that people who were older and had more physical or mental health conditions at baseline were likeliest to experience the highest benefit. Causal forest is a machine-learning algorithm that estimates the effects of an intervention on an outcome based on the person’s characteristics, allowing for personalized predictions of how each individual will benefit from a given treatment. The study found that providing Medicaid coverage to individuals with high predicted benefit generated 2.4 times greater reduction in depression prevalence at the population level, with substantially lower cost, compared with providing coverage to everyone. The approach could be useful not just for depression but “in treatment effects across the full spectrum of individual-level demographic and health characteristics.” The researchers conclude that the machine learning causal forest approach could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of insurance expansion. Read the article in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

CT-guided ablation proves to be safe and effective for treating recurrent gynecologic cancers A recently published study led by scientists in the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found treating people diagnosed with recurrent oligometastatic gynecologic cancers with CT-guided high-dose-rate interstitial brachytherapy ablation was safe and effective, with few side effects. Brachytherapy is a type of radiation that allows for a more focused and customized dose to the cancer, while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. The study included 34 patients who were diagnosed with either recurrent oligometastatic endometrial or ovarian cancer who underwent this treatment between 2012 and 2022. The team of researchers found the treatment helped control the cancer in about 73% of the cases. The average time before the cancer progressed again was eight months, and the overall survival rate was encouraging, with 58% of patients still alive at 43 months. The study suggests that CT-guided high-dose-rate interstitial brachytherapy ablation can be an effective treatment option for patients with recurrent gynecologic cancers, even in cases where patients had undergone multiple prior treatments. Read the study in Brachytherapy.