Last spring, my half-sister Michele called me concerned about her 21-year-old daughter’s mental health, as she’d had several bouts of depression and it appeared another one was coming on. This time, Michele was eager to get in touch with her daughter’s therapist before their next meeting. She had some new—and potentially treatment-altering—information.
“Her tests came back,” Michele told me. “Turns out she’s got a MTHFR-gene mutation. We’re waiting to find out which kind.” This was not a conversation anyone would have had 10 years ago, and it’s not one that many are having now. But if personalized, gene-based medicine keeps expanding into the brain sciences, it might be.
Michele, who works as a medical researcher in Australia, may know more than the average parent about the potential of genetics in treating psychiatric conditions. She had read studies that a mutation in the MTHFR gene may increase the risk of psychiatric disorders. Depending on the variation of the mutation, it could also signify which medications are most useful—with some studies recommending folate supplements instead of, or in addition to, antidepressants.
psychiatrist and Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology, David Nutt, argues for the legalization of controlled substances for Brain research.
Or is it time for scientists and doctors to change the rules so research and clinical treatments can flourish? Image Courtesy of Pixabay/OpenClips
Imagine being an astronomer in a world where the telescope was banned. This effectively happened in the 1600s when, for over 100 years, the Catholic Church prohibited access to knowledge of the heavens in a vain attempt to stop scientists proving that the earth was not the center of the universe. ‘Surely similar censorship could never happen today,’ I hear you say—but it does in relation to the use of drugs to study the brain. Scientists and doctors are banned from studying many hundreds of drugs because of outdated United Nations charters dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the banned drugs include cannabis, psychedelics and MDMA (now widely known as ecstasy).
Researchers have published two studies indicating that good teachers have a far greater influence on students than just their test scores. Good teachers raise their students’ earning potential.
There are other effects, as well.
Unsurprisingly, exposure to better teachers is associated with an increased probability of attending university and, among pupils who go on to university, with attendance at better ones, as well as with higher earnings. Somewhat more unexpectedly, good teachers also seem to reduce odds of teenage pregnancy and raise participation in retirement-savings plans. Effects seem to be stronger for girls than for boys, and English teachers have a longer-lasting influence on their pupils’ futures than maths teachers.
I suspect the greater influence of English teachers results from the wider use of reading and writing skills than math skills in most jobs, rather than the intrinsic usefulness of either subject.
This is fantastic news if these researchers can develop a viable vaccine for humans.*
There have been numerous studies showing how dogs can benefit human health, by sniffing out cancer, for example. Now it is time for cats to shine, as researchers say they may hold the key to a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine.
Researchers from the University of Florida and the University of California, San Francisco, have discovered that blood from patients infected with HIV shows an immune response against a feline AIDS virus protein.
Janet Yamamoto, professor of retroviral immunology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida and corresponding study author, told Medical News Today:
“Since FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and HIV-1 are distant cousins and their sequences are similar, we used the T cells from HIV positive human subjects to see if they can react and induce anti-HIV activity to small regions of FIV protein, which lead to the current story.”
The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Virology. […]
*Based on a quick check via Google & Wikipedia, Medical News Today appears to be a legitimate medical news site.
Virologists at China’s National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory have been hybridizing H5N1 (bird flu) with the H1N1 human influenza strain that caused a flu pandemic in 2009.
The stated reason is to study hybrid strains that might emerge in the wild. However, the research has been criticised for being of little value in the monitoring of new viral strains as they emerge OR in the development of vaccines.
Other virologists have raised serious concerns about this, going so far as to call the research “apallingingly irresponsible”. There are fears that such lab-created strains could themselves lead to pandemics with a very high fatality rate. Apparently “The record of containment in labs like this is not reassuring”.
I should add that I’m very far being anti-science or anti-research. In fact, I’m a health professional working in research, and also hold a science degree, in microbiology of all things. However, in this case it seems to be a case of taking a lot of risk (in the sense of high consequence, if not neccessarily high probability) for very little benefit.
Same-sex marriage got huge headlines at the Supreme Court last month, but in the world of science and medicine, the case being argued on Monday is far more important. The lawsuit deals with a truly 21st century issue — whether human genes may be patented.
Myriad Genetics, a Utah biotechnology company, discovered and isolated two genes — BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — that are highly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad patented its discovery, giving it a 20-year monopoly over use of the genes for research, diagnostics and treatment. A group of researchers, medical groups and patients sued, challenging the patent as invalid.
There is no way to overstate the importance of this case to the future of science and medicine. In the view of Myriad and its supporters in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, patents are the keys to making these medical discoveries possible. Their opponents, including leading medical groups and Nobel Prize-winning scientists, contend that Myriad’s patent improperly puts a lock on research and medical diagnostic testing.
The U.S. patent system, authorized in the Constitution, gives temporary economic incentives to inventors to advance science. The general rules of the patent system have been established in statutes and Supreme Court case law for over 150 years. You can’t patent a product of nature or a law of nature. It doesn’t matter that the task was difficult or costly. Nature is immune to patents. So, even though it may have taken Einstein a long time to figure out that E=mc2, he couldn’t have patented that law of nature.
Alone among the curious animals (though this seems like a conceit that more research might invalidate), we seem to be curious about clearly useless things. Or at least, things that have no obvious and immediate use. Humans seem to frequently poke at things that yield returns, if at all, only generations later. And often in ways unsuspected by those who do the poking.
We stare at the stars, we peer through microscopes, we climb mountains and we dive to the ocean floor.
This behavior, so natural to humans, is incomprehensible to human organizations. So things like space programs or other pure curiosity driven efforts have to be justified by politicians on the basis of “will improve life here on earth through the discovery of new materials and advances in medicine.” This is probably the mother of all idiotic fictions. Fortunately, we don’t seem to require our institutional fictions to be credible. Merely sufficient to stop conversations we don’t want to have.
Analyzing an institution’s/corporation’s psychology per individual human psychology continues to be interesting.
One of Obama’s actions against gun violence has been to move towards ending the de facto ban, instigated by the pro-gun lobby, on scientific research on the topic. Scholars have released the following chart, tallying cause of death against the amount of research carried out on that cause:
Condition/Cases in U.S./Number of NIH Grants
Firearms injuries/more than 4 million/3
Just another example of a rational science-based approach from the adults in charge.
When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions.
They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” According to their research, which involved more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68, the illusion persists from teenage years into retirement.
“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
Other psychologists said they were intrigued by the findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, and were impressed with the amount of supporting evidence. Participants were asked about their personality traits and preferences — their favorite foods, vacations, hobbies and bands — in years past and present, and then asked to make predictions for the future. Not surprisingly, the younger people in the study reported more change in the previous decade than did the older respondents.
Wayne State University is exempt from answering a FOIA request about its use of dogs in medical research, because the last time it did “animal rights extremists” threatened its researchers with “torture and death,” the university claims in court.
The university sued the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in Wayne County Court.
Wayne State claims it released records in 2011 to the Physicians Committee, which sought information on the university’s use of dogs in cardiovascular research.
“After WSU responded, PCRM launched a public attack against WSU, falsely accusing it of ‘inhumane’ and ‘cruel’ treatment of dogs in research,” the complaint states.
“Animal rights extremists quickly seized upon PCRM’s inflammatory accusations and began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against [one scientist], his family, WSU students and officials, including threats of injury, torture and death. One such extremist was subjected to a personal protection order by this court. The order was repeatedly violated, leading to citations for contempt and felony charges, including one for aggravated stalking.