Research News


Moral injury increases Veterans’ suicide risk

February 16, 2022

Moral injury during military service increases suicide risk in both men and women, according to a study by NCIRE-supported Investigator Shira Maguen, PhD. The study of more than 14,000 Veterans found that men who experienced moral injury were 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide during their service and twice as likely to do so after leaving the military, compared with those without moral injury. Men who felt betrayed were nearly twice as likely than those without these feelings to attempt suicide during service, but no more likely after service.

Women who experienced betrayal were over 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide both during and after service. Perpetrating a morally injurious act did not increase the suicide risk of women Veterans.


The study, published in Psychological Medicine, suggests that moral injury assessment should take gender difference into account.

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New study reevaluates Annual Growth Rate of Nonsyndromic Ascending Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

February 7, 2022

While previous studies of nonsyndromic ascending thoracic aortic aneurysms (aTAAs) reported that the typical aTAA growth rate was approximately 0.6 mm/year, there are few studies that have measured the annual growth of aTAAs using computed tomography (CT) imaging. NCIRE Board Director Michael Hope, MD, and NCIRE-supported Investigator Elaine Tseng, MD, FACS, co-published a study that reevaluates the annual growth rate of nonsyndromic aTAAs that do not meet criteria for surgical repair in Veterans in the contemporary era, using modern CT imaging suitable for highly accurate and reproducible aneurysm measurement.

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Connection found between ACE inhibiters and reduced risks associated with COVID-19 infections

February 3, 2022

Past studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that leads to COVID-19 infections) enters cells using the Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors.

But what happens in patients who are taking angiotensin receptor blockers, metformin, ACE inhibiters, and similar medication?

In the study titled “Association of the patterns of use of medications with mortality of COVID-19 infection: a hospital-based observational study”, investigators found that such medications have the potential to counter the dysregulation of ACE2 by the virus and protect against viral injury.

The study was co-published by NCIRE-supported Investigator, Arthur Wallace, MD and appeared in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.

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Anxiety and PTSD linked to increased myelin in brain’s gray matter

January 11, 2022

We all respond differently to traumatic stressors, but what is the biological reason behind our various behavioral reactions to stress? Recent studies have shown that stress influences the plasticity of oligodendrocytes and the myelin they produce, demonstrating a mechanism by which trauma induces abnormal structural and functional changes in the adult brain. 

An oligodendrocyte is a type of large glial cell found in the central nervous system that assembles myelin, a multilayered sheath of membrane that wraps around the axonal segments between nerve cells, aiding in faster communication between cells.

Taking a translational approach to test the hypothesis that gray matter oligodendrocytes contribute to traumatic-stress-induced behavioral variation, NCIRE-supported Investigators Linda Chao, PhD, and Thomas Neylan, MD, co-published a study in the peer-reviewed medical journal Translational Psychiatry linking anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to increased myelin in brain’s gray matter.

Titled “Regional gray matter oligodendrocyte- and myelin-related measures are associated with differential susceptibility to stress-induced behavior in rats and humans”, the aim of this study was to determine the relationship between oligodendrocytes and the behavioral outcomes of trauma.

Conducting brain MRI scans of 38 Veterans — half with PTSD, half without — investigators found an increase in myelination in the gray matter of those with PTSD compared to that seen in the brains of those not suffering from PTSD.

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Roam Robotics launches partnership with NCIRE and the San Francisco VA Health Care System to study the impact of its robotic wearable on the Veteran population

December 7, 2021

Roam Robotics, a company making innovations in the expansion of human mobility with wearable robotics, announced today that the Northern California Institute for Research and Education (NCIRE) and the San Francisco VA Health Care System (SFVAHCS) has begun enrolling patients to study the impact of Ascend, a first-of-its-kind smart brace, on the Veteran population.

Ascend, from Roam Robotics, is a smart knee orthosis designed to provide relief from knee pain and intuitively support everyday mobility.

Ascend is the first wearable robotic device to show usefulness in everyday life for people suffering from knee joint pain who want to regain independence and live more active lifestyles. A previous clinical study of knee osteoarthritis participants demonstrated an average of 46 percent pain reduction, and 67 percent exhibited functional improvement when using the device.  Ascend is also registered with the FDA as a Class I medical device.

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Study Finds Significant COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness Decline Amongst US Veterans

November 4, 2021

In the first study of its kind of more than 780,000 US Veterans, NCIRE-supported Investigator, Arthur Wallace, MD, and cohorts found that protection against any COVID-19 infection declined for all vaccine types, with overall vaccine protection declining from 87.9% in February to 48.1% by October 2021. The novel study was co-published in Science Magazine.


Investigating the Gene-Environment Interactions Related to Parkinson’s Disease Susceptibility

October 20, 2021

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that progresses over time as small clusters of dopamine‐producing brain cells deteriorate, causing motor issues such as tremors, loss of coordination, and difficulty speaking. The Parkinson’s Foundation states that approximately one million Americans currently living with PD. Although the exact cause of disease onset is unknown, it is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as the interaction between them, are contributors. Through a Neurotoxin Exposure Treatment Parkinson’s Program (NETP) Fiscal Year 2019 Investigator‐Initiated Research Award, NCIRE-supported Investigators, Drs. Samuel Goldman and Raymond Swanson, aim to uncover the link between genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to the risk for PD.

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Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele elected to the National Academy of Medicine

October 18, 2021

NCIRE-supported scientist and Board Member Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele has been elected as a new member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, as announced at its annual meeting held on October 18, 2021.

“I am, and have always been, committed to discovering new and innovative ways to ensure that health and wellness are not dependent on one’s race, ethnicity, geographic, or socioeconomic status,” said Dr. Ovbiagele. “This recognition by the National Academy of Medicine is a tremendous privilege and a meaningful validation of the efforts of my team to address health disparities here and abroad.”

New members are elected by current members of the Academy through a rigorous selection process that considers only the most exceptional individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.


Dr. Ovbiagele was selected for his research focusing on the health of vulnerable populations (racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured, rural dwellers, and military veterans) in the United States and Africa.


NCIRE congratulates Dr. Ovbiagele on his election to the National Academy of Medicine! We are proud and appreciative of his vital and ground-breaking work on behalf of often-overlooked and underserved communities both here and abroad.


Dr. Kenneth E. Covinsky co-publishes in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 

October 14, 2021

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are progressive and terminal conditions that create immeasurable suffering for those it afflicts and their loved ones. Though the FDA recently approved aducanumab (Aduhelm, Biogen) for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, its less-than-desirable clinical effectiveness and high price tag ($50,000 annual cost to patients) is causing much concern in the research community. NCIRE-supported scientist Dr. Kenneth E. Covinsky co-published an article with Drs. Lauren Hunt and Krista Harrison in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society entitled “Instead of Wasting Money on Aducanumab, Pay for Programs Proven to Help People Living with Dementia”.

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Dr. Louise Walter co-publishes study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

October 5, 2021

Maintenance of function during cancer treatment is important to older adults; yet little was known about the characteristics associated with pretreatment life-space mobility and changes during non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treatment. NCIRE-supported scientist and Board Member Dr. Louise Walter, with colleagues Drs. Melisa Wong and Alex Smith, conducted a mixed methods cohort study of adults 65 and older with advanced NSCLC over the course of six months to examine patient experience of life-space change during treatment.

Their published study can be found in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


Glycoprotein associated with cardiac valve damage in animal models of infective endocarditis

September 21, 2021

Some oral bacteria colonize on tooth surfaces, but they can seep into the bloodstream and settle inside the heart’s chambers and valves. They may even cause infective endocarditis (IE), which can lead to stroke and heart failure. In a study in the journal Glycobiology, SFVAHCS researcher Dr. Barbara Bensing identifies a group of proteins, expressed by oral bacteria, and how they help the organisms bind and colonize on cardiac valve surfaces.


She found significantly higher levels of a particular glycoprotein, lubricin, in laboratory animals with damaged or infected valves, as compared to healthy animals. Presence of this protein could serve as a biomarker for endocardial injury or infection, suggests the study.


Dr. Bensing, was formerly a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of NCIRE-supported scientist Paul Sullam, MD, who was a co-author of the study.