News in brief: Brain atrophy gene variants identified; Olfactory bulb injury seen in patients with COVID-19; More specialists are using My Health Record

11 Apr 2022

Brain atrophy gene variants identified

The first genome-wide association meta-analysis of changes in brain morphology across the lifespan has identified several common genetic variants that affect rates of brain growth or atrophy.

Longitudinal MRI data from 15,640 individuals were used to compute rates of change for 15 brain structures.

Genes such as GPR139, DACH1 and APOE were most strongly associated with metabolic processes.

The international consortium, which included researchers from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane,
noted that the APOE gene was known for its association with Alzheimers disease but now also appeared to influence changes in the hippocampus and amygdala.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience also demonstrated global genetic overlap with depression, schizophrenia, cognitive functioning, insomnia, height, body mass index and smoking.

Gene set findings implicate both early brain development and neurodegenerative processes in the rates of brain changes.

‘For some newly found genes, it was indeed the case that they caused accelerated growth of a brain structure early in life and accelerated shrinkage later in life, for example.’

Olfactory bulb injury seen in patients with COVID-19

COVID-19 viral infection causes injuries in the olfactory bulb and olfactory tract region associated with loss of taste and smell, new research shows.

Post mortem tissue taken from 23 patients who died of COVID-19 infection showed signs of axon injuries and microvasculopathy in olfactory tissue, when subject to histopathology and microscopy investigation. There was a significant association between level of injury observed and a history of loss of taste and smell.

However the study did not find evidence of viral infection in olfactory bulb from most patients with COVID-19, suggesting that the axon and microvascular pathology were most likely not caused by direct viral injury and may be associated with local inflammation.

More information: JAMA Neurology

More specialists are using My Health Record

Use of My Health Record by specialists has increased since it became accessible through clinical software in late 2021, according to the Australian Digital Health Agency.

Its latest figures for February 2022 show that 20% of specialists have registered for the MHR and 9% have used it. In comparison 95% of public hospitals and 98% of GPs have used the MHR. While the specialist usage levels are still low they increased by 17% in January 2022, the Agency says, and the number of documents uploaded by specialists and viewed by other healthcare providers increased by 23%.

Public hospital viewing of MHR had doubled in the last year, it noted.

The Agency said the increase likely reflects the increasing proportion of clinical software products that are compatible with the MHR and have the discharge summaries and reports for diagnostic imaging and pathology.

Ongoing funding for the Agency was confirmed in the 2022 Budget, which noted total expenditure of almost $380 million for 2021-2022. The Agency was given a target of increasing provider use of the MHR by 15% a year and a 20% increase in e-prescribing.

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