Author Archive

Research Focus: Cognitive Impairment in Schizophrenia

The hidden symptoms of schizophrenia Cognitive deficits are the less dramatic and less known, but equally disabling symptoms that accompany psychosis for many people living with schizophrenia. Most people with schizophrenia experience problems with basic cognition—the mental functions that help us perform even simple tasks of everyday life. These symptoms can make it hard to live independently, have a job or go to school, or socialize with others. For most, the auditory hallucinations or delusions of psychosis can be treated with varying degrees of success and side effects, using medications. But there is virtually no treatment available to address the cognitive impairments of schizophrenia. (The exception may be the drug clozapine, which some researchers are convinced can improve cognition, even if it is only relatively small boost.) And unlike psychosis, cognitive impairment does not come and go, or get better over time, but seems to remain pretty constant. (Cognitive impairment […]

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Be the Hope for Cures!

Green is the color of spring and of mental health—and May is Mental Health Month. It’s the time of year when we join with other voices to make some noise about the last frontier in health. Cure Alliance is marking Mental Health Month by kicking off our campaign “Hope for Cures.” The part you can play is to be a spokesperson for hope—see below for how you can help. Why do we hope for cures? Cure Alliance for Mental illness was founded on the conviction that our society should put more resources into finding cures for mental illnesses. Today’s treatments for these brain disorders are not adequate, since they don’t work for many people, and even when they do work, they carry undesirable side-effects. This means that too many people living with mental illness have to settle for partial recovery. We should not accept this current reality as forever given […]

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Exploring the Final Frontier: Brain Awareness Week

The human brain is responsible for amazing things – from space travel to skyscrapers, from epic poems to cures for a host of formerly deadly diseases. What it hasn’t done so well at, so far, is understanding itself. Actually, it is only by comparison to our knowledge about other things—how our hearts work, or how life formed on our planet—that our understanding of the brain falls a bit short. Though there’s a lot we still don’t understand, we have learned quite a bit about our brains, especially over the last 100 years, thanks to the hard work of pioneering scientists who developed new tools to explore below the microscopic level. Today is the first day of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) 2015, celebrating their work, and the ongoing work that continues to increase our understanding of our brain—the incredibly complex organ that defines us has humans. This is the 20th BAW, […]

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21st Century Cures

Improving the cycle from discovery to treatment A bipartisan group of House representatives, led by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), has released draft language for a sweeping health-related bill, the 21st Century Cures Act,  designed to speed up the process from research discoveries to real treatments and cures for people who need them. You can read the almost 400-page draft online, or the 6-page summary and discussion, which is a lot easier to get through! The proposed document is the result of months of discussion between legislators and constituents—including patients, physicians, researchers, hospitals, insurance companies, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and others. Another round of feedback is in process. The current draft includes 5 sections, entitled: Putting patients first by incorporating their perspectives into the regulatory process and addressing unmet medical needs Building the foundation for 21st century medicine, including helping young scientists […]

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Depression Breakthrough? The Many Faces of “Special K”

Recently, a 45-year-old anesthetic drug has been getting attention as a remarkably effective antidepressant. Ketamine is used for anesthesia in children as well as adults and animals, and sometimes for relief of chronic pain. It’s considered very safe. But it’s also known as Special K among people who use it as a hallucinogenic club drug. What makes ketamine special in mental illness is that it is the first truly new potential drug treatment in more than 50 years. Exploratory studies going back 13 years have suggested that ketamine has some unique effects in people with depression, both unipolar major depressive disorder and bipolar depression. So, what’s the big deal? First, ketamine acts fast. Unlike most current antidepressants on the market, which can take 6-8 weeks to work, ketamine shows antidepressant effects within 24 hours, sometimes in just a couple of hours. Second, ketamine works in people with treatment-resistant depression. A […]

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At the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting

Cure Alliance Debuts to the Neuroscience Community Every year, Cure Alliance co-founder Hakon Heimer goes to the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in his capacity as editor of the online Schizophrenia Research Forum. SfN is the organization linking neuroscientists from all over the world—at the annual meeting, you can mingle with over 30,000 other people, most of them brain researchers. For the past couple of years, our other founder Robin Cunningham has joined him for an exhilarating and exhausting few days. This year, Cure Alliance had an added presence—we joined 711 other exhibitors at the meeting, to introduce our organization to brain researchers and learn from them. We joined Autism Speaks as the only mental illness organization there (there were also 3 Alzheimer’s groups). In the small section reserved for nonprofit organizations, we collected signatures for our petition for more mental illness research funding, and talked with researchers and others about how […]

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Letter of Support for Accelerating Biomedical Research

Cure Alliance has written a letter of support for Senator Tom Harkin’s Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, which seeks to restore investment in research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which have seen their funding decrease steadily in real dollars in the past decade.   Also access the letter by clicking below: Letter supporting Senator Harkin’s Accelerating Biomedical Research Act

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Focusing on Mental Illness during Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Month, or Mental Health Awareness Month. President Harry Truman first declared Mental Health Awareness Month in 1949, when mental health was much less talked-about. It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way since then in our attitudes toward mental health, in what we know about it, and in our treatments for mental health problems. Mental Health America, which leads Mental Health Month each year in May, has chosen “Mind Your Health” as this year’s theme, focusing on the importance of mental health in overall health, including “tips and tools for taking positive actions to protect mental health and promote whole health.”  Indeed, there is no health without mental health (as the MHA motto says), and it’s important for every one of us to remember that we can take steps to keep mentally healthy. But what about mental illness? Is awareness of mental health the same […]

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Goodbye, and Thank You, to Scotti DiDonato

By Hakon Heimer   “Can you tell me why you aren’t joining the Mental Health Association of RI, whose mission you seem to have chosen for yours, rather than beginning a new organization?” That was my introduction to Scotti DiDonato, who died January 17, at the age of 80. She wrote me a challenging email on the weekend we launched Cure Alliance for Mental Illness with a party at PeaceLove Studios, and followed it up with a bracing interrogation over coffee a few weeks later. It was the start of an all-too-brief friendship. I explained that we were creating a dedicated national voice for research on mental illness, specifically targeted on the Federal public health research budget. I also said that MHA and NAMI had more than their hands full helping people with services, housing, insurance and other immediate needs. Scotti immediately said, Okay, what do you need? … How […]

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Cure Alliance Letter to the New York Times

In response to the New York Times’s profile on NIMH Director Tom Insel, Cure Alliance cofounders Hakon Heimer and Robin Cunningham joined with Nobel laureate and Cure Alliance Advisor James Watson on a letter to the editor to point out that Insel’s challenge of trying to please diverse and competing constituencies would be a lot easier if he had resources necessary for the task. Here is the full letter: To the editor: Dr. Tom Insel’s challenging job (“Blazing Trails in Brain Science,” Science, Feb 4) would be easier if the National Institute of Mental Health were not running on a shoestring. The Institute’s 2012 budget was $1.5 billion, which seems like a lot until you consider how much mental illnesses cost us: the 2010 US Burden of Disease study shows that the burden to Americans is about equal to that of cancer. As the nation’s economy strengthens in the next few years, we urge policymakers to bring NIMH’s budget closer […]

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