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Editorial: UNM’s got promising Alzheimer’s, rehab Rx

When it comes to attacking New Mexico’s serious lack of medical doctors – especially in rural areas – every bit helps.

That’s one reason to celebrate news of the University of New Mexico’s newly minted physical medicine and rehabilitation residency program. According to the university, a five-person cohort who completed internships elsewhere kicked off a three-year residency here July 1; a second cohort of five medical students simultaneously began an internship year that will lead into residency next year.

For years, health care experts have pointed to New Mexico’s low number of physician residency slots as one reason the state can’t attract enough doctors to meet the population’s needs; the logic goes that doctors who complete their residency here are more likely to stay here and practice medicine. But the growth of residency slots depends on complex federal funding formulas, which means leaders of N.M.’s only medical school can’t just add as many positions as they want. These new residency positions represent welcome progress.

The residency program isn’t the only good news on the health care front; UNM last month gave an update on an exciting Alzheimer’s disease vaccination project researchers have had in the works for several years. The endeavor – reported at length in an August 2015 Journal article – seeks to “induce an immune response against the changes of Alzheimer’s disease that is strong and long-lasting, but avoids side effects,” researcher Kiran Bhaskar told the Journal at the time.

Last month, the research team published a paper in NPJ Vaccines reporting it had reached a successful milestone in animal testing. Mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms were treated with the vaccine, and researchers found “tau tangles” – build-ups of the tau protein believed responsible for the disease’s progression – were eliminated.

The team has a distance to go to reach the finish line. Here’s to them joining their residency counterparts and making it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.