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Dr. E. Sander Connolly Studying Twins to Understand Brain Aneurysm

Dr. E. Sander Connolly
Dr. E. Sander Connolly

Think about your garden hose for a second. The wall of the hose is strong enough to withstand the force of water at high pressure– unless there is something wrong with the hose. If there is a defect anywhere along its length, the hose might bulge from the water pressure at the point of the defect. It might even burst.

This is the same thing that can happen when an individual has an intracranial, or brain, aneurysm. Here, a blood vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain has a defect and the vessel bulges. In severe cases, it can burst, or rupture. The National Institutes of Health reports 30,000 Americans suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm every year. This dangerous situation almost always occurs without warning. It leads to death more than half the time.

Dr. E. Sander Connolly, Surgical Director of the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit, cares for many patients after a ruptured aneurysm. Dr. Connolly would rather step in before disaster strikes. But current medical knowledge can’t predict who is at risk for brain aneurysms. Dr. Connolly’s collaboration with an international research group is a step toward filling in this knowledge gap.

The group conducted the Familial Intracranial Aneurysm (FIA) Study, which was published in January in the journal Cerebrovascular Diseases. Their research reviewed cases of twins who were both affected by brain aneurysms. Twins who take part in medical research offer a wealth of genetic insight. Identical twins share virtually identical genes. Fraternal twins, however, are no more genetically similar than any sibling pair. Similarities more common in identical twins are a signal that genetics, or heredity, could be at play.

The FIA study showed that brain aneurysms in identical twins were in the same location more often than in fraternal twins. This suggests that a risk for developing aneurysms could be inherited.

Many factors influence the formation of a brain aneurysm. As research like this accumulates, a better understanding of the genetics will help physicians identify patients at risk. With this knowledge, focus can shift from caring for patients with burst aneurysms to preventing the tragedy to begin with.

Learn more about Dr. E. Sander Connolly on his bio page here.

patient journey

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