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Publications by Sunnybrook Research Institute brain scientists were journal's most talked about in 2019

By Matthew Pariselli  •  January 24, 2020

Despite only being weeks into 2020, celebrating the accomplishments of 2019 might feel like a distant memory to some. Planning for a festive toast, however, wouldn’t be unwise for Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) Drs. Matthew Burke and Jennifer Rabin. Publications by the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program associate scientist and scientist, respectively, were ranked the most talked about works of 2019 in JAMA Neurology.

Burke’s article, titled, “‘It’s all in your head’—medicine’s silent epidemic,” topped the journal’s list of 2019 publications in attention received. “The article brings to attention hot-button issues in medicine that few physicians feel comfortable talking about. It highlights the inadequate management of patients with medically unexplained symptoms and sheds light on the downstream effects of these often dismissive clinical interactions. This includes eroding patient-physician relationships, perpetuating patient disability and straining health care resources,” he says. His article also looks at identifying evidence of complex brain network dysfunction in these patients, and how, he says, some medical specialists and alternative medical practitioners may take advantage of these patients.

The article achieved an Altmetric Attention Score of 1,324. Produced by an algorithm, this number provides insight into the amount of online public attention a publication receives. This includes mentions in the news, blogs, social media platforms and more. A score of 20 or higher generally means the paper is getting more traction than most of its contemporaries. Burke’s work has been viewed 28,278 times, and seen in 2,489 tweets from 2,067 Twitter users.

Although this reception surprised Burke, he also says it feels great. “I have a lot of empathy for these patients that have been swept under the rug in medicine for far too long. It is very meaningful for me to contribute to ongoing advocacy efforts for these patients and help educate others on this important topic.”

The first author on her paper, Rabin released work exploring the connection between daily exercise and Alzheimer’s disease. Titled “Associations of physical activity and beta-amyloid with longitudinal cognition and neurodegeneration in clinically normal older adults,” the publication was the second most talked about work in the journal last year, with an Altmetric Attention Score of 659.

The study assessed 182 older adults for seven consecutive days. Participants wore waistband pedometers that monitored their exercise. Results showed higher levels of regular physical activity were tied to slower amyloid beta-related cognitive decline. Amyloid beta is a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The finding emphasizes exercise as a method to delay cognitive decline before a person presents symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was very excited to learn that our paper was among the most talked about articles. JAMA Neurology is a very prestigious journal, so it’s truly an honour to be recognized among so many stellar papers,” Rabin says. “When writing the paper, I knew the findings were novel and important; however, I never expected the paper to receive so much attention. I think this is a testament to the urgent need to find strategies to effectively delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

One of the first projects to investigate physical activity and amyloid levels, Rabin’s work has 17,907 views. It has been tweeted about 846 times by 716 users.

Papers by Burke and Rabin were also recognized by JAMA Neurology editors as some of the best in the journal last year. Rabin’s study on exercise and Alzheimer’s disease made the top 10 cut, as did a different paper Burke co-authored, “Association of concussion with the risk of suicide.” This meta-analysis examined 17 articles on more than 700,000 people with concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), as well as 6.2 million unaffected people. The researchers found a two-fold higher risk of suicide, as well as an increase in suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide, in concussed people or those who experienced a mild TBI compared with those with no history of either brain event. The work stresses the need to prevent these injuries and identify better people at risk of suicide after experiencing concussion and/or mild TBI.

JAMA Neurology editors compiled their list by selecting studies “that illustrate major strides in neurology across fields from a lens of varied experimental approaches.” Also making the list was a publication by Drs. David Gladstone, Richard Aviv and Richard Swartz, all in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program; and one by Drs. Don Redelmeier and Junaid Bhatti, both in the Tory Trauma Research Program. Gladstone, Aviv and Swartz’s paper is titled “Effect of recombinant activated coagulation factor VII on hemorrhage expansion among patients with spot sign-positive acute intracerebral hemorrhage,” while it was Redelmeier and Bhatti’s publication “On the link between concussions and suicide” that was picked.

In a nutshell

  • Publications by Drs. Matthew Burke and Jennifer Rabin were the two most talked about works in JAMA Neurology last year.
  • Burke’s article examines the management of patients with medically unexplained symptoms, while a study by Rabin showed exercise may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Studies by the scientists were also included in a list of the journal’s 10 best papers from 2019, as determined by editors.