There has been a very encouraging announcement from the UK government in a report titled ‘New Horizons’ where the government is now preparing to triple the funding of mental health research from £50 million to £150 million each year. This comes with recognition of the impact that mental illness has or will have on society both now and in the future.
Research in Dementia
Apathy was more likely in Dementia (Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia or Mixed Dementia) in patients with white matter lesions in one study (n=176). Research at the molecular level has identified two compounds which when acting together have dissolved Amyloid plaque. The two compounds are DAPH-12 and a green tea component EGCG. This has taken place in the Yeast version of the Amyloid plaque but would need to be supported by positive findings in the human version and then in clinical trials and so there are several steps to go before the implications are clear. A Swedish team are taking a unique approach to the management of Amyloid plaques. This involves the construction of an artificial protein which envelopes the Amyloid plaque components – the ABeta peptides and the protein is currently being modified to avoid degradation in the circulation. The team are also working with another approach which involves stabilising oligimers intermediate in the transformation of ABeta peptides into Amyloid plaques. A team in Dundee are undertaking research into Parkinson’s Disease using the worm C.elegans!
Research in Mood Disorders
The Psydir News has a review of a number of recent phase 2 and 3 trials including a proprietary combination of Buspirone and Melatonin in this article and it will be interesting to see the results of further relevant studies and which will gain regulatory approval.
A research team have removed brain tissue from a man with intractable epilepsy and not only preserved this tissue but also enabled the tissue to continue to function. This allowed them to examine the tissue function in more detail to try to understand how the seizures were being generated. The researchers identified very fast oscillations which were thought to represent the precursors to seizure activity but excluded chemical neurotransmission as the basis for this activity. The researchers concluded that the seizures were likely to result from electrical transmission (which occurs across gap junctions rather than through neurotransmitters) and this might have implications for therapeutics research. The study is also covered here. There has been recent discussion of a theory that cerebral venous insufficiency may lead to Multiple Sclerosis supported by imaging and surgical evidence. However there are many questions that remain to be answered and further research will be needed.
A Belgian study looked at psychological trait in medical students over 7 years. They found that extraversion was associated with lower performance in the preclinical phase of medical school but beneficial in the clinical phase. Being conscientious was associated with success in the preclinical phase. A recent study looked at a man who had experienced damage to the insular cortex and anterior cingulate cortex but still maintained an awareness of his heart rate. The researchers concluded that there are at least two areas that are responsible for a person’s awareness of their internal body functions – interoception – one being the insular cortex and the other being unkown but likely to be the somatosensory cortex. In Missouri, USA, the National Centre for Health Statistics have developed an online training tool for separated parents to faciliate compliance with state law. They provided evidence from the parents of subjective improvement in relationships and they are intending to roll this out to other states. It will be interesting to follow the results of further studies in this area. A research team in Manchester are undertaking a study into virtual reality assisted treatment of driving phobias and it will be interesting to see if this has the same success as virtual reality based treatments for other types of phobia. A life story conference is being held at the beginning of next year which will help to explore how life stories can be used in mental health services.
MindHacks has another installment of Spike Activity in which amongst other items he notes the recent dissection of H.M’s brain online. Patient H.M is a famous patient who unfortunately had both of his hippocampi removed and was subsequently unable to store new biographical information. The hippocampus has been shown to play a role in the pathology of some forms of dementia and there is a lot of research now underway looking at this relationship in more detail. H.M very kindly gave permission for his brain to be used after his death and the H.M blog is here. Over at the clinical cases and images blog there is a mention of loneliness spreading in social networks. The AlzForum continue with coverage of the Chicago Neuroscience conference and discuss studies which suggest the involvement of calcineurin and Nuclear Factors of Activated T-Cells (NFAT’s) in Alzheimer’s Disease. They also examine evidence that in Mild Cognitive Impairment higher brain metabolism may be protective against possible neurotoxic effects of Amyloid plaques. In the Schizophrenia Forum, there is coverage of the Neuroscience Conference with a look at various studies comparing biological markers in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. There is a round-up of the monthly news in PTSD over at the Heal My PTSD blog which includes a look at Telehealth and trauma in the movies. Over at the Neuroanthropology blog there is an excellent round-up of recent blog articles including one on research into synaesthesia. Mental Nurse has an interesting round-up of blog articles including the Neuroskeptic’s look at a study in which psychiatrists and psychologists assessed their own response to an antidepressant.
Subtle changes in speech can feature in illnesss and listening to the ‘music’ in a person’s voice has been suggested as very useful in an assessment (see here). Two recent studies add to the growing body of evidence showing a link between music and speech e.g (Mithen, 2005). In the first study, sad or happy affect could be described in major and minor scales. In the second study, 10 people repeated different vowel sounds with different affect. The researchers provided evidence that the most popular scales occurring in folk songs were based on vowel sounds.
In a recent study, the authors looked at Facebook user profiles and compared them with personality inventories completed on those same people (n=236). They found that there was a significant relationship between the Facebook profiles and their scores on the personality tests which was most significant for extraversion and least significant for neuroticism. If there are useful relationships between facebook profiles and personality test results then there may be health applications for this but only if the appropriate applications are developed and relevant trials undertaken. MindHacks covers hallucinations in people who were profoundly deaf or deaf at birth in this article. The Neurocritic looks at the recent online dissection of H.M’s brain in this article. Dr Shock writes about a recent course in Oxford about editing journals complete with video.
Steve Mithen. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. George Weidenfeld and Nicholson publishers. 2005.
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