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U of M receives Ataxia grant

The University of Minnesota has received a grant from various health care foundations to research Friedreich’s Ataxia, a disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system.

The Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance, GoFar and Ataxia U.K. provided the university $150,000 as part of an international call for projects that explore noninvasive ways to study how neurons in the brain and spinal cord react in patients with Friedreich’s Ataxia, especially when the disease is first setting in.

The university’s research will be led by Christophe Lenglet and Pierre-Gilles Henry, both Ph.D.s and assistant professors of radiology. Their goal is to develop new imaging tools that can track changes in the brain and spinal cord over time.

Work will be conducted at the university’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, a world leader in MRI research.

“Researchers now have a better understanding of the disease, and we will soon be ready to test potential therapeutic strategies in clinical trials,” Henry said. “We believe MRI and MRS could play an important role by detecting if a potential treatment is working more quickly and on a smaller group of patients.”

Friedreich’s Ataxia affects less than two in 50,000 people. Henry said conducting clinical trials would be a major hurdle to clear because such trials generally require a large number of participants over a long stretch of time.

The team already has gathered data from some Friedreich’s Ataxia patients but plans to expand its sample size and monitor patients to observe the long-term effects of the disease.

Friedreich’s Ataxia affects mostly sensory neurons in the spinal cord, which can cause muscle weakness, vision and hearing impairments and speech problems.

Red Cross: Help prevent shortage

Donating blood isn’t an item most families include on their vacation itineraries.

That leads to a decline each summer in the number of blood donors, according to the American Red Cross, and creates a shortage of blood for needful patients.

The Red Cross is encouraging eligible donors of all blood types to help prevent another shortage by giving blood at a series of drives across Minnesota next month. The series will begin Aug. 1 with a drive in Douglas County and wrap up Aug. 14 in Todd County. A drive for St. Louis County will be held Aug. 4 at the Red Cross-Northland Chapter in Duluth.

During the summer, the Red Cross estimates there are two fewer blood donors at each drive than is required to meet the needs of patients.

To set up an appointment to donate blood, visit or call (800) RED CROSS.

Bigfork facility tops list

A hospital on the western edge of the Arrowhead region is one of the best critical access facilities in the country, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Bigfork (Minn.) Valley Hospital was included in the association’s list of top 20 critical access hospitals in the nation, based on best practices in patient satisfaction.

The 20 hospitals to crack the list scored best iVantage Health Analytics’ Hospital Strength Index, which measures patient experience through ratings and recommendations of health care facilities.

Bigfork Valley Hospital is home to a 20-bed acute care facility, a surgery center and a number of specialty clinics. The hospital will be recognized this fall at the association’s national convention in Austin, Texas.

To be considered a critical access hospital, facilities must offer 24-hour emergency care each day, be located about 35 miles from the nearest critical access hospital and have no more than 25 inpatient beds.