With all the controversy surrounding the link between traumatic brain injury and professional football, the National Football League (NFL) has been adopting certain initiatives over the last couple of years in an attempt to reassure the country that their national pastime is becoming safer for kids and athletes. Together with USA Football—youth football’s governing body—the league endorsed a new educational program called “Heads Up Football” back in 2015. The program involves a series of in-person and online courses for coaches to learn new safety procedures and proper tackling drills to reduce the risk of head injury. The NFL and USA Football said that the program reduced the number of concussions by an estimated 30 percent and injuries by 76 percent.
In an effort to create a more personalized approach to treating depression and to better understand its underlying circuitry, Amit Etkin of Stanford University is studying the use
of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in combination with whole-brain EEG and functional MRI. According to Etkin:
By stimulating brain activity and assessing circuit-level changes as they happen, we can garner important insight into what is wrong in depression and how to fix it in an optimized, personalized matter.
I’ll give you one concrete example: It matters whether stimulation is done to an area in the patient’s brain that is abnormal or normal. For any treatment in any psychiatric disorder, we don’t actually know whether the goal of treatment is to normalize abnormal brain activity or to engage compensatory circuitry. It’s a fundamental question that we cannot answer without a direct tool for manipulating brain systems and assessing the effects.
It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide; the US government estimates that 2.1 million people in the United States have substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and another 467,000 are addicted to heroin. Consequences include a spike in the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers (including the recent death of the musician Prince), and growing evidence to suggest a relationship between increased non-medical use of opioid analgesics and heroin abuse in the US.
What can we do to help? This spring, Charles O’Brien and colleagues reported results of the latest in a series of studies testing the drug naltrexone as a preventive against opioid relapse in people greatly at risk for relapse: formerly addicted convicts. “This U.S. multisite, open-label, randomized effectiveness trial showed that among adult offenders who had a history of opioid dependence, the rate of relapse was lower among participants assigned to extended-release naltrexone than among those assigned to usual treatment,” they write.
The July Report on Progress, by Florent Meyniel, Ph.D., explores the Bayesian concept of the brain, a mathematical theory to neuroscience.
According to the article, Bayesian concepts are appealing to many researchers in fundamental and applied research, including neuroscience. Bayesian tools, part of probability theory, are useful whenever quantitative analysis is needed, such as in statistics, data mining, or forecasting. However, Bayesian concepts have much further reaching implications in neuroscience. They are essential to the way we think about the brain.
Need a book to take with you on your summer vacation? We have six brainy suggestions, all written by members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI) or prominent neuroscientists, that are perfect for a sunny day:
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, by DABI member Frances E. Jensen, M.D., HarperCollins
“Jensen provides her sound scientific expertise and presents experimental brain data, as well as her firsthand practice of parenting through vignettes about her sons’ sometimes questionable behavior—hair dye, a car crash, her response to a son having too much to drink as a college student. Jensen also presents humorous, cliché, and disheartening teen stories and testimonials from parents who have sought her advice.” – Marisa M. Silveri, Ph.D., Cerebrum