From the Archives: The Promise of Ketamine

promiseofketamine.jpgThis month, the FDA approved the use of esketamine, a nasal spray based on the old anesthetic and once-popular club drug ketamine, to treat people with severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. It’s costly and entails visiting the doctor for four hours a week for four weeks, but it’s the first treatment in decades that works in a new way in the brain. That means it might reach the large number of people with depression who are not helped by drugs that target other brain functions.

Last March, Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., wrote for Cerebrum on “The Dazzling Promise of Ketamine,” exploring how the drug was validated as an antidepressant, how it works, and what it could mean for development of other drugs: Continue reading

The Skinny on Epilepsy

Although a common brain disorder that affects almost four million people nationwide, many people know little about epilepsy. Stephanie Rogers, a doctoral candidate at New York University (NYU), attempted to demystify the disorder with a thorough overview of “The Science of Epilepsy: What Is It and How Can We Understand It?” at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute during Brain Awareness Week.

Rogers explained epilepsy with a metaphor: Imagine neurons in the brain are people in a public space. Some of the people (neurons in a certain network) are having a conversation and talking directly to one another while others are overheard by the other people (neurons) in the room. During a seizure, all the people become distracted and stop their normal conversation and, in unison, chant a certain message—like fans at a sports game. Seizures activity is neurons joining together in a chant in the brain, and epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Epilepsy_EEG

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Parkinson’s Disease on the Mind

People often associate tremor with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder originally named “shaking palsy,” but did you know that one-quarter to one-third of patients don’t exhibit this symptom? At Wednesday night’s event for Brain Awareness Week, “On the Mind: Parkinson’s, Movement, and Dance,” we heard from top NYU doctors about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, but also from a PD patient on his experience with disease and how dance helped him come to terms with his diagnosis.

There are four cardinal clinical features of PD: rest tremor, slowness, stiffness in muscles, and balance problems, said Andrew Feigin, M.D., director of the Fresco Institute at NYU Langone Health. Not everyone gets all four, he said, but people with Parkinsonism have two or more, and are often diagnosed with PD. Because it is a progressive disease, these symptoms can lead to other troubles, including quiet or slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and shuffling gait, as well as non-motor features such as depression, impulse control, and sleep disturbances.

Actor Michael J. Fox and the late boxer Muhammad Ali, both diagnosed with PD, dramatically increased public awareness of the disease in the past few decades, but it was first discovered in the early 1800s by James Parkinson. Around 1 million people in the U.S. and 6 million people worldwide have PD.

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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Feb. 25-Mar. 3

Today marks the first day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an observance created by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in order to spread awareness about eating disorders and support for those dealing with them. According to NEDA, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Different studies show varying degrees of prevalence of what is classified as a mental illness, but the fact remains that eating disorders are common and, while not always thought to be the case, profoundly dangerous. Although they may not be considered to be one of the more “serious” mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, with anorexia nervosa being the deadliest among them all.

Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., founding director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, which has recently been designated as the National Center of Excellence by SAMHSA. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bulik.

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Movies On the Brain

In 2018, more than 1.3 billion movie tickets were reportedly sold in the US and Canada, alone, so I think it’s safe to say, people like watching movies. Why not take advantage of their widespread popularity and plan a movie screening or film festival for Brain Awareness Week!

Already a proven and popular activity among Brain Awareness Week partners, screenings can work in a more formal setting for adults, but also as a classroom activity for kids. To make them truly informational, it’s great to follow the movie with a lecture or panel discussion featuring experts on the move topic, or with a classroom discussion between a teacher and students.

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