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Physicians Update


Physicians Update

Fall 2009

UCLA Research Focuses on Rare Endocrine Diseases

Endocrine disorders encompass some of the most common health problems in the U.S., as well as maladies so rare that many physicians will never encounter an affected patient. Consequently, patients often face difficulties receiving effective diagnosis and treatment for rare and complex endocrine diseases, particularly endocrine tumors.

“Endocrine tumors are uniquely challenging because, while they grow, they secrete hormones that often result in hyper function,” says surgeon Michael Yeh, M.D., who established a multidisciplinary team at UCLA focused on clinical and research activity related to rare endocrine disorders. “We not only have to remove the tumor, we have to address hormone excess before surgery and then deal with hormone deficiency afterwards.” At UCLA, the most challenging cases are examined from every angle, using the most advanced technologies available in modern medicine, including the 18F-DOPA PET-CT. In the U.S., the 18F-DOPA PET-CT is available only at a small number of tertiary referral centers, such as UCLA and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, according to Dr. Yeh. Using this technology, Dr. Yeh and colleagues have found the sensitivity and specificity to be effective in guiding focused anatomic and metabolic explorations, which enables them to perform smaller, safer surgeries associated with faster recovery and fewer complications. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

The team is also attempting to identify important endocrine disease-related biomarkers by collecting tissues from people with rare tumors (adrenal cortical cancer, for example) and examining nucleic acid composition through molecular testing. This research will improve accuracy in diagnosis and prognosis and advance expression profiling, which may eventually enable physicians to customize treatment for each patient by finding weaknesses in a patient-specific tumor.

“The promise of our work is that it will enable us to perform more focused, less traumatic operations with better outcomes because we have fully appreciated the extent of the disease beforehand, and it will allow us to tailor therapies that increase efficacy and reduce side effects for individual patients,” Dr. Yeh explains.

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