Global Mental Health and Neuroscience: Challenges and Opportunities

Sheckar Saxena at SfN, November 2016

Sheckar Saxena at SfN, November 2016

“When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries. A country that does not look after the treatment of more than 50 percent of people with depression living in that country, a country that allows a million people to stay in prisons when suffering from mental disorders, is it a country that can be called a developed country for mental disorders or mental health? You answer that.” –Shekhar Saxena, November 2016

This past August, Patricio V. Marquez and Shekhar Saxena wrote for Cerebrum on making mental health a global priority. This month, Saxena, a psychiatrist and director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization, spelled out the challenges and opportunities during a discussion at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). Continue reading

Music and the Arts Promote Heathy Cognitive Function

A session entitled “Arts, Music, and the Brain: How the Arts Influence Us from Youth to Maturity” drew a standing room only crowd in a late afternoon session on Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Four speakers came at the topic from slightly different angles. The common denominator: In addition to anecdotal evidence and common sense, improved imaging and sound wave technology has helped neuroscientists demonstrate that arts and music boost cognitive function across social economic class, age, gender, and ethnicity.

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SfN Discussion Centers on Youth Football

On an early Sunday afternoon a few blocks away from the Society for Neuroscience Conference at the San Diego Convention Center, sports bars packed with football fans watched their heroes bang heads playing the most popular sport in America. Inside the center, four neuroscientists who specialize in head trauma and a former NFL player talked about the complex issues of concussion and multiple impacts to the brain in football, others sports, military service, and in random accidents.

“Here is an October 9 New York Times article about Jordan Reed, a tight end for the Washington Redskins, who sustained his sixth concussion and pondered whether if and when he should return to the field,” Harry Levin, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor University, enlarged on a screen. “Six is too many, and he ended up missing only two games.”

“Did he have come back too soon?” asked Levin. The answer, to the frustration of athletes, their families, and neuroscientists head trauma researchers is: We really don’t know.

While the roundtable discussion, “Concussion: From the Players’ Experience to the Future of Research,” offered compelling data on the scope of concussion and mild head trauma by gender, age, and circumstance, the speakers emphasized that in light of heightened awareness and the challenges facing researchers about quantifying the dangers, making public policy decisions is purely speculative and premature. [See full video of the discussion, below.]

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The Ethics of Genetic Technologies

On Thursday, Dana Alliance member Steven E. Hyman helped the International Neuroethics Society (INS) kick off its annual meeting in San Diego. INS President and fellow Dana Alliance member Judy Illes welcomed attendees and introduced Hyman, who opened the program with his presentation titled, “Emerging Genetics of Human Cognition and Behavior: New Challenges for Ethics and Policy.”

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Steven Hyman, M.D.

“Scientists always knew that genetics would help us,” he began, “but the trouble was that it is fiendishly complex, and the technology was, at the time, unavailable…I truly didn’t expect to live long enough to see [it] develop.”

With the commencement of the Human Genome Project, technologies were suddenly available that allowed scientists to yield information crucial to the sequencing and mapping of all genes. In that same decade, he commented, the BRAIN Initiative and stem cell technologies were also developed, adding another feat to neuroscience research. With this, Hyman said, it suddenly became possible to fundamentally try to understand schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other nervous system diseases, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and so on.

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Neuroscientists Heading to San Diego This Week

 

sfn-2016We’re heading off to attend the Society for Neuroscience’s Annual Meeting, which starts on Saturday in San Diego. Some 30,000 neuroscientists and others will converge on San Diego Convention Center–a city’s worth of brain-lovers! Before SfN’s official start, we’ll be taking in the annual meeting of the International Neuroethics Society (INS), at San Diego’s Central Library. Stay tuned for posts and photos from both. Here’s some of what we’re looking forward to. Some events are open to the public, where noted.

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