News Round-Up: March 2012 1st Edition

Thinking of a Career in Psychiatry or Know Someone That Is?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a great document ‘Make a Difference. Improve Lives. A Career for Psychiatrists’ for people thinking about a career in Psychiatry. There’s an introduction from the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor Sue Bailey as well as the registrar Dr Laurence Mynors-Wallace and Dr Max Pemberton. The document also features interviews with other psychiatrists including trainees. This is a great document that could help trainees coming through into Psychiatry placements, medical students or even students considering a career in medicine (although the document is aimed at doctors).

Other News

There’s a piece by Dr Beatrice Baiden on new advice from the NHS prescribing centre which she argues is putting pressure on GP’s to reduce antidepressant prescribing (via @pulsetoday). This advice is in keeping with NICE guidelines on Depression and the issues of accessibility to non-pharmacological options as well as patient preference are raised. There’s an interesting piece on a man with Asperger Syndrome who developed his social skills by watching David Letterman and by listening to Howard Stern and has written a book about his experiences (via @WinstonschoolCA).The debate on Brain Training Programs continues with this small study looking at people with Schizophrenia compared to a control group. The researchers looked at whether they could improve ‘reality monitoring’ in people with Schizophrenia by using a brain training program. In this case, the reality monitoring was tested by asking subjects in the study to distinguish between words presented to them by the researchers and words that they themselves had generated. The subjects were also scanned using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The researchers found that using the brain training program improved the performance of subjects. They also found an increase in activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex after the training was completed. The Medial Prefrontal Cortex is an area of the brain that is thought to play a central role in reality monitoring. GABA is an important neurotransmitter and there is a link to a recent case-study of Schizophrenia resulting from the person producing antibodies to Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase an important enzyme needed for the production of GABA* (via @polygenicpaths). Another popular debate is about whether Oxytocin is an ‘empathy molecule’. This is perhaps an oversimplification but Oxytocin has been trialled as a drug that can potentially improve social skills. In one study, the researchers wanted to see if they could improve the ability of people with Schizophrenia to recognise emotions in facial expressions (via @therapynews). They found at baseline that people with schizophrenia in their study performed less well then a control group whilst after training they showed a significant improvement on this task. In PLOS One there is a paper in which the researchers find that vowel articulation is a marker of Parkinson’s Disease progression (via @keith_laws). The researchers found that when they looked at two measures of vowel articulation the people with Parkinson’s Disease performed less well than a control group and that their performance correlated with a disturbance in gait that is characteristic of Parkinson’s Disease. There is a Europe wide collaboration on research into detecting Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease early with more details here. The New York Times has a piece by Pam Belluck on prisoners who developed Dementia while serving their prison term (via @prison_health). A recent study looked at Omega-3 fatty acid levels in the bloodstream (via @TheConnilyn). Omega-3 is a constituent of cell membranes and thought to be important for the brain’s structure. The researchers didn’t look at the dietary habits of subjects but instead looked at the blood levels of Omega-3 and none of the subjects had been diagnosed with Dementia. They found that the subjects who had the lowest 25% of results for Omega-3 levels performed significantly worse on memory tasks than people with the other subjects and that they also had a reduced brain volume when compared to the other group. The researchers suggested that this was equivalent to the effects of 2 years of aging.

Psychiatry 2.0

There is a new white paper on Cloud Computing which is the delivery of computing as a service instead of a product. The white paper distinguishes between the relatively minor technical changes that make this possible in comparison with the significant social changes that this technology has made and will make possible.

Evolutionary Psychiatry

The mummified remains of Otzi the iceman were discovered in the Alps with Otzi passing away some 5000 years ago. Jason Palmer reports on a recent genetic analysis which has revealed information about early human migration patterns. Otzi is characterised as being similar in genotype to modern Sardinians and also shows evidence of migration from the Middle East. Otzi was also found to have lactose intolerance which is interesting because it is thought that agricultural practices were spreading through Europe at that time. There’s some interesting data emerging on Neanderthals in the Mediterranean (via @JshTrnf). Neanderthals are a hominid species who became extinct with the last distinct members of the group being identified in Gibraltar 24,000 years ago. However Paabo and colleagues in a landmark paper in Nature established that Neanderthals hybridised with our human ancestors and that up to 5% of the human genome is inherited from Neanderthals. The archaeological data suggests that Neanderthals were the creators of the Mousterian culture which featured a characteristic method of shaping stone tools. Evidence of the Mousterian culture from the Greek islands of Kefallinia and Zakynthos suggests that the Neanderthals reached these islands. The obvious question then is how did they get there? There are two methods. The first is swimming. The islands are some 8 miles from the mainland and there have been changes in sea levels over time. However even before the rise in sea levels, the sea levels would be have been too high to form a land bridge. Therefore it is feasible that the Neanderthals would have swam to the islands. A second possibility is that the Neanderthals sailed the Mediterranean and these findings are suggestive of an estimate of between 50,000 and 130,000 years ago. The possibility that they swam to the islands is simpler as this hypothesis does not need to include the use of boats. However this is challenged by further findings this time on the island of Crete. They are yet to be dated but again show evidence of the Mousterian culture and the island is about 50 miles from the mainland. There still remains the possibility that Neanderthals could have reached here from the islands of Kythera or Antikythera (where the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered) a distance of approximately 25 miles. By comparison, swimmers crossing the English Channel have recorded times of between 6 hours and 58 hours although the distance varies between 22 and 56 miles depending on the currents and other factors. In general these swimmers have been supported and would have been familiar with the route in advance. In contrast the Neanderthals would not have known the route in advance of the first crossing and to sustain a culture would need to have crossed as a group. They would need to have balanced the considerable risks in reaching Crete against the security of remaining in known territories. If there were boats and they were constructed from wood the remains would be lost unless they were located in special environments (e.g Peat bogs where remains of trees dating back to the end of the Ice Age have been located or ice where Otzi was preserved). Neither of these environments are relevant in this case though and evidence of boat building by Neanderthals must remain circumstantial. An endangered species, the Phillipine Tarsier has been found to communicate in ultrasound with a pitch frequency limit of 91 KHz (compared to approximately 20 KHz in humans) (via @researchblogs).


Dementia in Australia

When thinking about how to tackle illnesses its useful to look at how this is done in other countries. This document features estimates of the prevalence of Dementia in Australia as well as the methodology behind it. Its fairly recent – September 2011 (via @dementia_centre).

Dementia in Ireland

There is also a new report on Dementia in Ireland ‘Creating Excellence in Dementia Care’ (via @Atlantic).

Schizophrenia Forum

This is a link to a Schizophrenia Forum that was started in 2004. The Forum has over 250 members and more than 2600 postings at the time of writing.

Beyond the Flynn Effect

This is a very interesting piece by Professor Flynn on the eponymous Flynn Effect in which average IQ scores in the population have increased with time (via @psychmusings). This effect however has levelled off in one country and Professor Flynn suggests that the effect is an artefact of the test rather than a true effect. The argument backed up by data is sophisticated and hinges on performance on test components including the similarities test as well as the pervasiveness of science in education which has facilitated categorisation skills.

Programs for Elderly Documentary Library

There is a video library of documentaries for older adults here (via @helpage).

* strictly speaking this could be classed as an organic psychosis

An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

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