First annual Art of Neuroscience competition now accepting entries

The first annual ‘Art of Neuroscience’ competition is now accepting entries. All OHSU staff, faculty and students/trainees are invited to submit an original image that explores the aesthetics of brain and mind as a broad topic.

From molecules to psychiatry, all interpretations of the artistic aspects of neuroscience are welcome.

We are delighted to have a special category and prize designated just for high school students.

gettyimages-175538084-brain-paintingStudents should submit their art with the same information (including school) and format as detailed below.

Prizes will be awarded at the OHSU Brain Institute Annual Forum on Friday, November 18.

The winner from the high school category will be invited to attend the forum with his or her art teacher and family.

Submission Requirements

  • Format: JPEG
  • Information to include: Title of Image; Description of Image (<100 words); Artist’s Name and Department or School
  • Deadline: Monday, October 31

Submit images to:

Voting will be open to all OHSU staff, faculty and students/trainees from November 7 through November 16, and the winners will be announced at the OBI Annual Forum on Friday, November 18.


Oregon Poison Center experts discuss marijuana with educators from around the nation

nacct16-fb-banner-jpgThe Oregon Poison Center at OHSU recently presented on Oregon’s new marijuana laws from a poison prevention outlook at the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology 2016 (NACCT).

Members of the Oregon Poison Center packed their bags and headed to Boston for this year’s annual toxicology conference. “Marijuana: The Poison Prevention Outlook” was one of the most anticipated sessions for the nation’s poison center educators.

In this session, Fiorella Carhuaz, the health educator for the Oregon Poison Center, explained the latest legalization laws and Oregon’s current marijuana use prevention campaigns. nacct-pic-fio-jpg

The Poison Center plays an important role in these efforts, along with their own educational programs, which include presentations to injury prevention groups and other interested groups, as well as making data reports easily accessible to the public. 

Carhuaz also spoke about the Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) “Educate Before You Recreate” campaign, an educational campaign to increase awareness of what legalization means in Oregon. The OHA is also working on a teen marijuana use prevention campaign that is currently in its piloting phase.

The Oregon Poison Center has been collaborating with public health entities and has been releasing data reports to help better understand how legalization is affecting the calls made to the OPC. Carhuaz has also been giving presentations on marijuana to injury prevention groups and parent groups in both English and Spanish.

To make a request for a presentation please contact her directly at

The Oregon Poison Center reiterates that people of all ages should call them regarding marijuana exposures. They do not judge and are there to help. The Poison Help Hotline is 1-800-222-1222.

Alzheimer’s and the brain game challenge

iStock_62669108_cubeThe efficacy of brain games has come under scrutiny in the wake of a recent two million dollar settlement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Lumos Labs, parent company of the “Lumosity” program.

While the brain game industry makes billions in revenue, substantive evidence to validate these games’ effectiveness for preventing dementia remains to be seen. Lumos Labs’ heavily promoted claims that individuals who used its software could delay age-related cognitive decline and protect themselves against dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease was unfounded.

In a statement by Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting its games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease, but Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads” (2016; FTC press release).

The question of whether or not brain-training games can, in fact, enhance cognition and prevent dementia is a contentious one.

There is current dissent among cognitive scientists.iStock_83865137_MEDIUM

A consensus statement, signed by 75 scientists and issued by the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Stanford Center on Longevity, concluded that claims of preventing cognitive decline by using brain games is not backed by any compelling scientific evidence.

But many cognitive training scientists argue that cognition can be strengthened by certain interventions, and further research is necessary.

John Harrison of Metis Cognition states, “Given the lack of clear evidence one way or the other, it seems to me that agnosticism is the appropriate position. However, the risk of rejecting the possibility that training works is that we might be throwing away one of the possible tools in our armamentarium for dealing with dementia” (see Jan 2016 Alzforum article).

Looking at two major studies with different conclusions, the challenges of determining the efficacy of brain games remains evident.

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, concluded that computerized brain training can provide long-lasting cognitive benefits in healthy seniors in the areas of memory, reasoning, and processing speed.

“However, standard tests of function conducted by the researchers showed no difference in functional abilities among the [experimental and control] groups” (2014; NIH press release). The Brain Test Britain study, sponsored by the British Broadcasting Company, found that computer-based brain training games do not benefit people of a wide variety of ages beyond improved skill at playing said games and that these benefits do not translate to other brain functions.

Brain-training games appear to have the potential to give us short-term benefits in some specific areas. Unfortunately, evidence that these games can prevent cognitive decline and provide lasting, significant improvements in how we function in our everyday lives remains inconclusive.




Kate Mincks, B.A. is a Research Assistant at the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center




This article originally appeared in the The Layton Center’s newsletter, the Update, a biannual publication that features stories on Layton Center and national research, experiences of volunteers in some of our studies, and cognitive health. Subscribe here.

Teaching the next generation of doctors about community care for people with dementia

senior-woman-happyDelivering quality medical care for persons with Alzheimer’s disease is, and will increasingly be, one of the most challenging responsibilities for physicians. An estimated 5.3 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. By the year 2050, this number is estimated to be 13.8 million (2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures, published by the Alzheimer’s Association).

In communities across the U.S., services available to persons with dementia and their families may include a confusing array of options such as assisted living, foster care, retirement homes, home care, care management services, respite care, day care as well as educational and support programs for families. Yet, doctors in training generally spend little or no time learning about these options.

Medical educators are now recognizing how important it is for doctors to know not only how to diagnose and medically treat illness but also to understand the larger social world that patients live in. In recognition of this broader role, OHSU has embarked on a transformation of its Undergraduate Medical Education curriculum.

The goals of the new curriculum are, as reported by Mark Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine, “to prepare healthcare professionals for the changing health care delivery and discovery environments, and to do so in ways that continue placing emphasis on self-directed and also include life-long and inter-professional education.”

The new curriculum has provided the opportunity for the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center to educate future doctors about community health and social care. During four two-week “intersessions” sandwiched between academic terms, 2nd year students will receive intensive experiences learning about four topics: cognitive impairment, cancer, infectious disease and pain.

During the cognitive impairment intersession, students will learn about a range of conditions that may affect brain function and memory including Alzheimer’s disease and other variants of dementia, and they will have the opportunity to learn about community resources available to serve them.

During the first intersession held in March 2016, students visited the Alzheimer’s Association and gained a perspective on Alzheimer’s disease as a global and public health concern and an appreciation for the key role of the Association in serving patients and families.

Following this session, the students divided into four groups visiting different types of care facilities:

  • Providence ElderPlace
  • Laurelhurst Day Center
  • Glendoveer Residential Care and Day Center
  • Emerson House Memory Care Residential Center
  • Cedar Sinai Park Adult Day Services Center

The students also were introduced to the Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) a one-stop resource center that is available throughout the country and that can help families find services tailored to their particular needs.  Doctors cannot know about all the community services available for their patients but seeing a sampling of service options  and knowing that there are ADRCs to help families in need will go a long way towards their ability to provide support needed by persons with dementia and their families.




Linda Boise, Ph.D., M.P.H. is Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Education Core at the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center.




This article originally appeared in the The Layton Center’s newsletter, the Update, a biannual publication that features stories on Layton Center and national research, experiences of volunteers in some of our studies, and cognitive health. Subscribe here.

Ask these 3 questions to quickly identify inflammatory neuropathy

Patients with peripheral neuropathy present with weakness, numbness and/or tingling and pain in the upper or lower extremities or both. There are many causes for peripheral neuropathy. The most common causes for peripheral neuropathy are genetic mutations and diabetes.

For those types of neuropathies which are non-inflammatory, treatment is usually symptomatic, meaning focusing on the symptoms and removing the offending agent if possible. For example if a drug is causing the neuropathy, stop the drug or if diabetes is causing the neuropathy, control the diabetes.foot pain

However, peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by an underlying autoimmune disease. Up to 20 percent of patients with peripheral neuropathy actually have an autoimmune or inflammatory cause.

Quick identification and adequate immunosuppressive treatment of these patients helps prevent patient disability and sometimes death.

Therefore, when evaluating patients with neuropathies, the physician faces an important challenge of categorizing the disease as caused by an inflammatory neuropathy or a non-inflammatory neuropathy. Ascertaining whether the neuropathy is due to inflammatory vs non-inflammatory cause can sometimes lead to excessive testing, waste of health care dollars and, occasionally, harm to patients.

To solve this dilemma, our new research provides a simple strategy to quickly screen for inflammatory neuropathies.

Asking the following three questions, which highlight key characteristics of inflammatory neuropathies, prior to any blood work or other testing, can rapidly screen for potential inflammatory neuropathies:

1. Onset: how quickly did the condition present itself; did the symptoms of the neuropathy have a rapid onset and progress to reach their peak in less than eight weeks?

2. Distribution: how widespread throughout the body is the neuropathy; does the neuropathy affect one limb more than the other? Does it affect both the area near the body’s center and parts of the body located away from the center?

3. Systemic features: is the nerve pain accompanied by systemic features; in addition to the neuropathy, is the patient experiencing weight loss or skin changes?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then the patient has a high likelihood of inflammatory neuropathy and should be investigated and treated as soon as possible.


Chafic Karam, M.D., is the lead author of the paper “Rapid screening for inflammatory neuropathies by standardized clinical criteria,” published in the June 29, 2016 issue of Neurology® Clinical Practice.


In the interest of ensuring the integrity of our research and as part of our commitment to public transparency, OHSU actively regulates, tracks and  manages relationships that our researchers may hold with entities outside of OHSU. Dr. Karam serves as Neurology® WriteClick® Deputy Editor and received speaker honoraria from Nufactor and consulting honoraria from Lundbeck. L.A. Tramontozzi III receives publishing royalties for Deja Review Psychiatry (McGraw Hill, 2007, 2011).

Considering deep brain stimulation? OHSU maps treatment step by step

Colin Halstead of Eugene had DBS surgery at OHSU. “I don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t have this that could,” he said.

Colin Halstead of Eugene had DBS surgery at OHSU. “I don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t have this that could,” he said.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor reach a day when medication just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Sometimes the medication doesn’t provide the relief it once did. Or patients have to take such high doses that side effects spiral beyond what they can tolerate.

That’s when some turn to deep brain stimulation surgery, or DBS.

At OHSU, patients who have Parkinson’s or essential tremor and are considering DBS receive a step-by-step treatment plan. The steps include a thorough evaluation to make sure that only patients with a strong chance of success become candidates for surgery.

Here’s a guide to how the process works ─ for patients living inside and outside the Portland region ─ plus information on where to learn more.


The DBS process typically takes about three months from the first appointment to surgery.

Out-of-town patients can conduct many of the appointments in their home communities through OHSU’s Telemedicine Network, which offers a secure video link to OHSU specialists. Some patients come to Portland only for surgery.


The first step is to establish that the patient has a clear diagnosis. DBS helps idiopathic or classic Parkinson’s, for example, but not other types. In addition, the patient should be at a point where medication no longer effectively controls symptoms.

You can find checklists on our DBS website to help indicate who is a good candidate. The site includes a checklist for Parkinson’s patients and for essential tremor patients.

OHSU's deep brain stimulation website includes guides to the DBS process for patients with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor, including those who live near OHSU or far away.

OHSU’s deep brain stimulation website includes guides to the DBS process for patients with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor, including those who live near OHSU or far away.

Parkinson’s patients: Next, Parkinson’s patients have a series of appointments over one or two days with movement-disorders experts. Specially trained psychologists test thinking abilities and memory. Physical therapists test movement abilities on and off medication. Patients may also meet with a speech therapist.

Essential tremor patients: Patients with essential tremor meet with a neurologist, neurosurgeon or both to go over medical history, risks and benefits.

Before surgery

Those found to be good candidates for DBS and who choose to go ahead have an MRI and a final appointment to make sure they’re healthy enough for surgery.


Patients come to OHSU Hospital on the day of surgery and are put under general anesthesia. They have a CT scan that’s matched with the pre-surgery MRI, giving the surgeon a down-to-the-millimeter roadmap for placing the electrodes. The surgeon makes two small incisions, places the electrodes, and takes another CT scan to make sure they’re in the right places.

The surgeon also places thin wires under the skin of the head, neck and shoulders for connection to the pacemaker-like device, called a stimulator or an implanted pulse generator. Patients typically spend one night in the hospital and are released the next day.

Two to seven days later, the patient comes to OHSU to have the stimulator implanted. The device is about the size of a tea bag and is placed under the skin, usually below the collarbone. The person is put under general anesthesia for the procedure and goes home that day.

Programming and follow-up

Out-of-town patients have an appointment a week after DBS surgery to have their incisions checked and to receive initial programming of their stimulator. After that, they have appointments at one, two and three months – at OHSU or in their home communities – to adjust their DBS settings.

Patients in the Portland area receive incision checks and initial programming one month after DBS surgery. Then they have appointments for DBS adjustments at two and three months.

Patients may require several programming sessions to achieve the best symptom control.

After that, both sets of patients see their neurologist every six months for routine care and any needed DBS adjustments. The stimulator battery is replaced in a minor outpatient procedure every three to five years.

Visit OHSU’s DBS website to learn more. The site includes guides to the process for Parkinson’s patients and for essential tremor patients, including those who live in the Portland area and those who don’t.

“Brain team” collaboration helps kids learn about the influence of alcohol

ThinkFirst Oregon, the Portland Alcohol Research Center, and the Oregon Poison Center, (AKA the Brain Team) all located at OHSU, recently collaborated on a presentation for kids in grades 4-6, addressing the influence of alcohol on the brain.

During a two day period, over 900 students were bussed into the Safe Kids Union County Safety Fair, held at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande, Oregon.

Wallace Chan, from ThinkFirst, demonstrates the average size of an adult brain.

ThinkFirst educator Wallace Chan demonstrates the average size of an adult brain.

In 15 minute rotations, students learned about brain anatomy, function, and impact of alcohol on different areas of the brain.

Students participated in “Walk the Line” an activity very similar to a field sobriety test, where vision distortion goggles simulated the changes in behavior and coordination that alcohol can induce.

The Brain Team emphasized that in a real world situation, a pair of goggles can be taken off, while the influence of alcohol can stay with you.

Students were encouraged to apply what they learned about alcohol and the brain to their thinking about the other exhibits at the fair, which included ATV riding, preventing and handling bullying, safe bike riding, and wilderness safety. Students came up with ways that alcohol could influence safety, performance, and decision making in all those other areas.

Fiorella Carhuaz, Health Educator from the Oregon Poison center describes a memorable experience, “The most gratifying part of the event was when I saw their “aha” moment faces, and I knew they were deciding to say no to drinking.”

Teachers uniformly, and many quite emphatically, described the presentation and hands-on activities as very informative and age-appropriate. They thought it was effective experiential learning about the brain and the effects of alcohol, and was especially timely for students as they grow well into adolescence.




Mark Rutledge-Gorman, Education Core Director-Portland Alcohol Research Center



fio headshot


Fiorella Carhuaz, CHES Health Educator- Oregon Poison Center



Wallace Chan Photo



Wallace Chan, Education Presenter -ThinkFirst Oregon





Men’s Health: 3 reminders for maintaining a healthy mind

National Men’s Health Week is observed each year leading up to Father’s Day.

Help support the men in your life with these three tips for better mental health.

1. Depression affects everyone.

Men and women, older adults and young adolescents, all types of people can be affected by this “poisonous fogbank” which is how the author William Styron described depression.

But men may be inclined to falsely think they don’t (or shouldn’t) get depression.

Major depressive disorder, as its formally called, is one of the most common medical conditions, and at some time in their lives, one in every ten men develop clinical depression.

2. It is easy to recognize and get started on effective treatment for depression or other common psychiatric conditions.

A quick visit with your primary care doctor, or other medical professional if you prefer, is all it takes for an evaluation.

But remember—don’t delay. In my experience treating patients, the earlier they come in the easier it is.

In milder cases, you might even be able to benefit from a structured, self-help approach online. The VA, for example, has developed an online coach for PTSD.

3. Men may need an extra nudge to get treatment.

Whether it’s your husband, father, partner, son or friend, loved ones are well-placed to give that friendly nudge.

For example, our recent study found that depressed men who felt they had social support available to them were unlikely to use professional mental health services.

If you suspect a friend or family member has depression, one of the best ways to support them is to encourage them to seek care from a mental health professional.


Dr. Alan Teo


Alan R. Teo, M.D., M.S, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and School of Public Health at OHSU, and a Core Investigator, VA Portland Health Care System.

Follow Dr. Teo on Twitter @psychteo or find more information at


7 facts about deep brain stimulation ─ and why it might not be as scary as you think

YouTube Preview ImageThere’s no getting around it. Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, requires brain surgery. And that ─ understandably ─ makes people nervous. But DBS might not be as invasive or scary as you think.

DBS can be a powerful treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor. Tiny electrodes, or leads, are placed in the brain and connected to a pacemaker-like device. The device sends low-voltage electrical pulses to help control movement. Many patients enjoy dramatic gains in quality of life.

DBS isn’t for everyone and, like all surgery, it carries some risks. Still, if you or a loved one has considered DBS, here are seven facts you might like to know about how it’s done at OHSU:

1. You don’t have to be awake.

Until this decade, patients had to remain awake during DBS surgery. The surgeon needed the patient to respond to questions or commands to make sure the leads were placed correctly. Sometimes the leads had to be moved. Many hospitals still use this method.

At OHSU, neurosurgeon and scientist Kim Burchiel, M.D., introduced “asleep” DBS in 2011. The patient is placed under general anesthesia, and the surgeon uses MRI and CT scans taken before and during surgery to place the leads in exactly the right spots.

A study of 60 patients at OHSU, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, showed this technique is exceptionally precise. Asleep DBS is also less expensive, according to another study published in the journal. In addition, the surgery is faster and safer, and patients avoid the anxiety of being awake.

2. DBS doesn’t destroy brain tissue.

Some other surgeries for Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor use a technique called “lesioning” or “ablative brain surgery.” In essence, the surgeon destroys a tiny part of the brain. That means there’s no going back. Surgeries that use this technique include pallidotomy and thalamotomy.

DBS, on the other hand, is reversible. Placement of the leads ─ which are skinnier than strands of uncooked spaghetti ─ does not damage adjacent brain tissue. This also means that if DBS doesn’t work as expected or if some better technology comes along, the system can be turned off or removed.

3. The incisions are small.

DBS involves one or two incisions in the skull ─ each smaller than a dime ─ made with a surgical drill. A frame holds the patient’s head securely in place. Hair is shaved only from the incision areas.

Dr. Kim Burchiel is an OHSU neurosurgeon and pioneer in deep brain stimulation surgery.

Dr. Kim Burchiel is an OHSU neurosurgeon and pioneer in deep brain stimulation surgery.

After the leads are placed, the openings in the skull are covered with secure caps, and the skin is closed. The patient’s hair grows back.

4. The DBS wires won’t show.

Talk of electrodes and wires might conjure images of Frankenstein and protruding metal. The DBS system, however, is all under the skin.

The pacemaker-like device, called a “stimulator” or “implanted pulse generator,” is about the size of a tea bag. It’s placed under the skin, usually in the chest below the collarbone. It’s attached to thin wires ─ again, skinnier than uncooked spaghetti ─ that are placed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulders. The wires are attached to the leads.

The outline of the stimulator may be visible if someone is undressed, especially if the person is thin. But it won’t show through clothing. The caps in the skull create slight bumps, but they’re usually covered by hair.

5. DBS is not experimental for Parkinson’s or essential tremor.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved deep brain stimulation as a treatment for essential tremor in 1997 and for Parkinson’s disease in 2002.

At OHSU, Burchiel was the first in the United States to treat a Parkinson’s patient with DBS ─ back in 1991 as part of a clinical trial. Since then, Burchiel has done the procedure more than 1,000 times. He leads one of the most experienced DBS teams in the U.S., with a record of excellent outcomes and very few complications.

Researchers are conducting studies to see if DBS is effective in treating other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or depression. So while DBS is a long-established therapy for Parkinson’s and essential tremor, its full application may still be evolving.

6. DBS patients spend little time in the hospital.

You might think brain surgery would require a long hospital stay. But with DBS, most patients at OHSU spend just one night in the hospital after the leads are put in. Some spend two. The stimulator is typically placed two to seven days later, in an outpatient procedure.

7. DBS won’t keep you from normal activities.

DBS patients need time to recover from surgery. But once they’re healed up, they can resume regular activities such as swimming, traveling and sexual activity.

The DBS team at OHSU carefully screens patients. The team also explains benefits and risks in detail. Learn more on OHSU’s DBS website.

Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm

The NW Noggin team briefed members of the Senate HELP committee on their research and outreach efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

The NW Noggin team briefed members of the Senate HELP committee on their research and outreach efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

NW Noggin, the brain-child of Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake, is an arts-and-science integrated outreach program that targets underserved communities in the Portland-metropolitan area.

Teams of artists and scientists from universities all over the Portland/Vancouver area collaborate to create art-based science projects that illustrate complex concepts in ways that non-experts can understand.

Recently, NW Noggin was invited to travel to DC to participate in “Briefing with Brains,” a week-long series of events aimed to inform members of congress about the outstanding research and outreach efforts being made in the Pacific Northwest. While in DC we were fortunate to present our work to members of the Congressional STEAM Caucus, co-chaired by Oregon’s own Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, as well as members of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee.

The Phillips Collection, a contemporary art gallery in Washingon, DC, also partnered with NW Noggin to host “Neuroscience Night” where interactive science stations were interspersed with artwork.

Chief among these was the work of Portland based artist Kindra Crick, granddaughter of Nobel prize winning scientist Francis Crick.

Perhaps the most important, and certainly most exciting meeting we had was with a bunch of elementary school kids who couldn’t have been more excited to learn about the brain.

Honestly, I’ll never get tired of being asked, “Is that a REAL BRAIN!?” because when you say yes, you wouldn’t believe how blown away a third grader is.

Graduate school can be a long and arduous journey, and even the most resilient among us can, over time, become a little cynical.

school outreach

Getting psyched for brains! NW Noggin getting ready for some amped-up future scientists at Turner Elementary.

But when kids look at you like you’re a veritable superhero for being a scientist that cynicism is replaced with a really gratifying sense of pride, and you realize that outreach really is a two-way street.

If you don’t know that neuroscience exists, you can’t decide to study it when you grow up.

Making sure that kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, believe that a career in science is accessible to them is not only a critical endeavor, but is also the true responsibility of members of the scientific community.

By engaging kids at a young age we ensure that their awareness of their brain and brain health begins early; we plant seeds of curiosity that are nurtured over time.

NW Noggin also gives young scientists the opportunity to practice discussing their research in a way that is readily understandable to the general public.

Our research does not exist in a vacuum, and it’s really only when our findings reach the communities we hope to help that they do anyone any good. It’s for this reason that I believe that in addition to cultivating the next generation of scientists, it is our responsibility to disseminate our research in a meaningful way.

Through the effort of NW Noggin and outreach groups like it, I hope that we can continue to promote policies that support STEM education through federally funded programs.

We need to keep kids excited about science, because, like Bill always says, nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm.




Christie Pizzimenti  is a graduate student and Ph.D. candidate in the Department for Behavioral Neuroscience.

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