There has been a response from the Professor Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists together with representatives of the other Royal Colleges and other professional bodies to the proposed ‘Health and Social Care Bill’. Readers can see an extract from the letter at the GP online website.
Ben Goldacre has an interesting article on apparent flaws in neuroscience research. Goldacre looks at a paper by Niewenhuis and colleagues where they examine 513 papers and identify a systematic error in statistical analysis. Essentially positive findings in response to interventions are reported without comparison with the control group. The approach by the authors is somewhat reminiscent of the Vul et al paper on Neuroimaging research (see here) in the sense that both approaches can be considered as meta-research. In light of the controversial surrounding the MMR Vaccine a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (see also here) included a number of recommendations that may be helpful in challenging the difficulties reported by Niewenhuis and colleagues. There is also a need for an international response to fully address the issues.
In an American study based at the Mayo Clinic, researchers examined the role of an imaging technique known as Proton Magnetic Spectroscopy in identifying the factors influencing the load of Beta-Amyloid peptide which is thought to be central to the degenerative process in Alzheimer’s Disease. They included 311 people who didn’t have any cognitive impairment and used (11)C-Pittsburgh compound B (PiB) Positron Emission Tomography and (1)H Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy to image one part of the brain – the Posterior Cingulate Gyrus. With the PET imaging the researchers were able to image the Beta-Amyloid load. With the Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, the researchers were able to image the levels of choline in the Posterior Cingulate Gyrus. This is used as a measure of turnover of cell membranes.
Choline, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Choline-skeletal.png), Public Domain
They were also able to image the levels of creatinine which is thought to be relatively stable and useful for comparing with other molecules of interest (such as choline). The ratio of choline to creatinine can therefore be used as a marker of cell death which is useful for investigating neurodegenerative conditions. Similarly the researchers also investigated the ratio of myo-inositol to creatinine which is again useful in the investigation of neurodegenerative conditions. As expected, the researchers found that the Beta-Amyloid load was significantly associated with both the choline/creatinine and myo-inositol/creatinine ratios. However the researchers also found that the choline/creatinine ratio was significantly associated with performance on a number of cognitive tasks including tests of memory independent of the Beta-Amyloid load. The researchers suggested that the relationship between the choline/creatinine ratio and the impaired performance on cognitive tasks resulted from another process independent of the Beta-Amyloid load. In other words they thought that the probable cell death resulted from a process independent of Alzheimer’s Disease – vascular injury for instance. This is an interesting approach and raises a number of questions. For instance does this relationship predict conversion from to Alzheimer’s Disease or Vascular Dementia? What happens to these relationships in the Hippocampus, a brain region with much closer involvement in the degenerative process in Alzheimer’s Disease. What happens when the choline/creatinine ratio is followed up at multiple points to obtain an average value over a time period? It will be interesting to see further research in this area.
In a small study (n=64) comparing people with Alzheimer’s Disease with controls, researchers investigated the use of EEG in diagnosis. They found that was a small improvement in sensitivity when the EEG left hemisphere alpha/theta index was combined with a number of cognitive parameters compared with cognitive parameters alone. From a theoretical perspective it will be interesting to see other biomarkers correlates of these findings in larger replication studies.
The authors of one paper report on two cases of Posterior Cortical Atrophy with different forms of alexia. The researchers found evidence of differential hypoperfusion and it is important these hypotheses will need examination in large replication studies.
There has been a further interpretation of the findings of Ardipithecus Sediba with the researchers suggesting that the multiple adaptations make A.Sediba a likely candidate as our ancestor, preceding Home Erectus. However this assumption is controversial and others argue that the findings are important because they show that various permutations of adaptations are viable n the hominid lineages. What is also interesting is that the researchers have made the casts of A.Sediba available for researchers around the world which should facilitate the necessary discussion to fully contextualise the findings.
There is an interesting article (via VaughanBell) in Scientific American on group violence across primates. The researchers cite evidence of a relationship between food availability and violent group behaviour. However there is a limit to how much this hypothetical relationship can be used as an explanation for specific instances of behaviours in humans without being informed by high quality data about those same episodes.
Appendix – Annual News Roundups
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