Category Archive for ‘Research’

Supporting BRAIN: Research for Cures

A promising start In April 2013, President Obama announced the BRAIN Initiative, an effort intended to take brain research to the next level and advance understanding of perhaps the most important and least understood object in biomedical science today—the human brain. The initial announcement was made with great fanfare, though relatively little funding was promised at that point to support the initiative. Since then, however, many government agencies and private foundations and institutions have dedicated funding and resources to this important effort to understand the brain and its disorders better. Hundreds of funded grants have already begun to produce results, for example, improved ways of turning neurons on and off in experimental animals and a design for a brain-scanning helmet that can create PET scans of people while they are active. The need to push forward So far, the BRAIN Initiative has had strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Each year since its […]

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Research Focus: Bipolar Disorder in a Dish

A research study has used a new cellular model to see “inside” the brains of people with bipolar disorder. We can’t always see what we want to see inside the bodies of living people, despite all the technology we have for looking—from X-ray to MRI to endoscopy.  In particular, our methods for looking at living people’s brains are pretty limited. One of the common ways around this, especially when we want to learn about a disorder affecting humans is to study a model of the illness. Animal models are the most common—say, a mouse or rat that has been subjected to stress or trauma and shows signs of anxiety or depression. Such models are somewhat limited since we can’t ask the animal how it is feeling, and because rodent behavior is much less complicated than human behavior. A cellular model is another option—a cell that can be grown in the […]

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Suicide Research: Let’s Fund The Agenda To Reduce Suicide

What can suicide research tell us? Ultimately, we want research to tell us how to reduce suicide and suicide attempts. A lot of approaches exist for preventing suicide—some we’ve tried and some are just proposals or ideas. But which ones work best? Better guardrails on bridges? Better training for emergency room personnel? What other places in the healthcare system are the best intervention sites? What about the purported wonder drug ketamine, which still carries a lot of question marks? There actually exists a strategic plan for answering these and other questions. A national strategy and a research agenda The U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (a public-private organization) developed a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, including goals and objectives that dictate actions. The first national strategy document was created in 2001 and the second (most recent) one came out in 2012. One of the goals of […]

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Can we prevent suicide?

It’s fair to say that in the U.S., our attempts to prevent suicide thus far have failed—the rate of deaths by suicide has been constant for decades. In 2013, over 41,000 people died by suicide in the U.S. For Americans, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death (homicide is 16th). It is the second leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds in the U.S. and the third leading cause of death in that age group worldwide. September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Are we learning anything that could help us prevent suicide?   So what is research telling us? Research has given us a pretty good picture of risk factors for suicide, and not much more at this point. We still know very little about why people attempt suicide under conditions where others do not. Nor do we have a very good sense of which interventions work […]

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Can Fish Oil Stop Schizophrenia?

“Fish oil could prevent schizophrenia.” You have probably seen the headlines in the past weeks. This is the sort of news we all dream of—a way to prevent a serious illness before it develops, using a really safe treatment. The results from the study conducted in Vienna, Austria, are truly promising, but cautious optimism is still the prevailing mood, even among the researchers who did the work. Let’s unpack the story … The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been discussed as a possible treatment for schizophrenia since at least the 1990s, though research has not shown that fish oil supplementation has any effect on people already living with schizophrenia. However, the Vienna study, led by Paul Amminger of the University of Melbourne in Australia, suggests that fish oil can protect against the development of full-blown psychosis when taken by young people showing early symptoms that could develop into schizophrenia or another […]

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How Close Are We to Cures?

A good question We recently received the following email: hi there, i was wondering how close we are to cures for mental illnesses like ocd, depression and schizophrenia. I wish there were a simple answer to this question – something like “Really close!” or “We’ll have cures next year.” But the truth is more complex, and probably comes in several parts. We are closer to cures than we were before In part one of the answer, we could compare our search for cures to where we were in 1887, when Emil Kraepelin identified schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as separate and distinct disorders (though he gave them different names than the ones we use today), and in a sense founded the modern study of mental illnesses. Kraepelin believed that there was a biological brain basis to mental illnesses, though he couldn’t possibly know what it was, given that the field of neuroscience […]

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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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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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