From the Archives: Seeking to Stem Suicide

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Nearly 45,000 people in the US kill themselves each year (probably an underestimate, given the stigma still attaching to suicide), and there may be 25 attempts for each death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. A news story we published in January reported on a few of the many avenues of research trying to help doctors and caregivers predict who is at risk and how to better help them.

“Suicide is one of the few medical conditions in which the doctor and patient have different goals—the patient may be highly motivated not to reveal what he or she is thinking,” psychiatrist Maria Oquendo says in the story. “We need biological markers so we can identify those at risk.”

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#WSF18: Our Microbiome and the Brain

On Saturday at the World Science Festival, microbiologists David Relman, Jo Handelsman, Rob Knight, and Martin Blaser convened for a discussion on how the microbiome relates to our health. Our microbiome, the collective bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, allows us to digest food properly and fight off disease. Research suggests that an unhappy microbiome may contribute to autoimmune diseases, allergies, depression, and even Alzheimer’s.

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From left: Moderator Emily Senay; David Relman, M.D.; Rob Knight; Jo Handelsman; and Martin Blaser, M.D. Photo: World Science Festival/Greg Kessler

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Art in the Eye of the Beholder

The expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” has been used by many since it first appeared in print in the 19th century by writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. Cliché as it may sound, the idea behind this colloquialism—that perception is a subjective experience—is one that researchers are still working to unravel today. We’ve learned that aspects of perception (auditory, time, etc.) can be altered from depression, for example, and that there is a specific part of the brain dedicated solely to facial perception. Now, scientists are looking at differences in personality and how that affects the way a person visually examines a piece of artwork.

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Photo courtesy of James Cook University

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Memoir by John Saunders Sheds Light on Depression

There are many sad elements of John Saunders’ autobiography, Playing Hurt, from the author’s troubled childhood to his traumatic brain injury to his persistent depression. Most heartbreaking, though, is that Saunders died before the book was published, denying him the chance to witness its impact. Readers who know nothing about the sports broadcaster’s career nor have any close ties to mental illness will find the book well-written and engaging. Those directly affected by depression could find it life-changing.

 

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Saunders died unexpectedly before his book was released to the public. He’d hoped it would help people affected by mental illness.
Photo credit: De Capo Press

In the introduction to Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope, Saunders writes that he wanted “to reach out to the millions of people, especially men, who think they’re alone and can’t ask for help.” As a black man and a former athlete, Saunders, who appeared on ESPN and ABC in various roles from 1986 until his death in August of 2016, was a member of several cohorts often hesitant to admit mental health problems.

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New Method Reaches Deep in the Brain Without Surgery

A team of neuroscientists and engineers are working to develop a new form of treatment for people who have Parkinson’s disease, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to a recent New York Times article, the available methods for treating these conditions currently involve the risks of surgery and can have limited ability with directing electrical pulses to the right areas of the brain.

Dana Alliance member Helen Mayberg, tells the Times:

They have this clever new way to deliver current[s] to a spot of interest deep in the brain and do it without invading the brain…If you didn’t have to actually open up somebody’s brain and put something in it, if it could do what we’re doing now just as well—sign me up.

So far the research has only been conducted in mice, but experts are hoping the technique will work for people, too. “This is something that many of us in the field have wished for for a long time,” says Alexander Rotenberg. Rotenberg is director of the neuromodulation program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The article goes on to explain the details of the non-invasive treatment:

The method, called temporal interference, involves beaming different electric frequencies, too high for neurons to respond to, from electrodes on the skull’s surface. The team found that where the currents intersected inside the brain, the frequencies interfered with each other, essentially canceling out all but the difference between them and leaving a low-frequency current that neurons in that location responded to.

For more information on the experimental study, read the full article here.

– Seimi Rurup

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