Following chemotherapy, survivors often find it more challenging to learn new tasks, remember words or do things as efficiently or quickly as they once did. To help address that issue, IU researchers are working with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh to evaluate a cognitive behavioral therapy called Memory and Attention Adaptation Training, or MAAT. Researchers from the two universities will test MAAT and supportive therapy to determine the effects of both on improving memory problems and emotional resilience among breast cancer survivors. With MAAT, cancer survivors work with a psychologist to identify specific situations at home or on the job where memory problems are likely to occur and to learn specific strategies to address those issues. In supportive therapy, survivors also work with the psychologist, but they explore emotional strengths and build resilience in coping with memory problems and cancer survivorship in general. Brenna McDonald, a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at IU, says everyone forgets something sometimes. However, chemotherapy patients are quick to attribute that to their treatment, which makes them feel helpless, she says. Researchers will look at the functional MRI of participants to evaluate underlying changes in brain activation patterns that are believed to be associated with treatment. Their end goal is to determine which treatment is most helpful to breast cancer survivors.
In other news, President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes a proposal to upgrade the U.S. drinking water distribution system by removing and replacing dangerous lead pipes. Gabriel Filippelli, an Indiana University geochemist and environmental health researcher who has studied the impacts of lead poisoning in children for decades, says he is happy to see due attention paid to the silent killer which disproportionately affects poor communities of color. Biden’s proposal includes $45 billion to eliminate all lead pipes and service lines nationwide. The funding would go to programs administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and would affect an estimated 6 to 10 million homes, along with 400,000 schools and child care facilities. Lead poisoning is a major public health problem, because lead has permanent impacts on the brain, particularly in children. Young brains are still actively forming neurons. Neurons are designed to use calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, as a transmitter to rapidly pass signals, Fillippelli says. Lead is able to penetrate the brain because lead molecules look a lot like calcium molecules and if present in a child’s body, lead can impair neuron development and cause permanent neural damage. Children with lead poisoning have lower IQs, poor memory recall, high rates of attention deficit disorder, low impulse control, and tend to perform poorly at school, which reduces their earning potential as adults. They also face increased risk of kidney disease, stroke and hypertension as they age. Filippelli says the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning has declined significantly in the U.S. over the past 50 years. While this decline is a public health success story – Fillippelli says researchers estimate that about 500,000 U.S. children still have elevated blood lead levels. Health experts widely agree that there is no known “safe” blood lead concentration and as long as lead water pipes remain in service, children and families are vulnerable. Filippelli says while $45 billion is a huge investment, it probably isn’t enough to replace all lead pipes nationwide. Cities will need to get creative to make whatever funds they get go as far as possible. Fillippelli says lead water pipes are ticking time bombs in cities across the U.S. Other important sources of lead exposure, such as soil and dust contamination, also require urgent attention. But fixing water systems, he says, is a critical step toward protecting children from the lifelong burdens of lead poisoning.