Some see ketamine as an effective drug for some patients, and others see it as a dangerous hallucinogen that has not been studied enough.
It is either the most exciting new treatment for depression in years or it is a hallucinogenic club drug that is wrongly being dispensed to desperate patients in a growing number of clinics around the country.
It is called ketamine — or Special K, in street parlance.
While it has been used as an anesthetic for decades, small studies at prestigious medical centers like Yale, Mount Sinai and the National Institute of Mental Health suggest it can relieve depression in many people who are not helped by widely used conventional antidepressants like Prozac or Lexapro.
And the depression seems to melt away within hours, rather than the weeks typically required for a conventional antidepressant.
But some psychiatrists say the drug has not been studied enough to be ready for use outside of clinical trials, and they are alarmed that clinics are springing up to offer ketamine treatments, charging hundreds of dollars for sessions that must be repeated many times.
A promising new study suggests that a wireless, light-sensitive, and flexible film could potentially form part of a prosthetic device to replace damaged or defective retinas. The film both absorbs light and stimulates neurons without being connected to any wires or external power sources, standing it apart from silicon-based devices used for the same purpose. It has so far been tested only on light-insensitive retinas from embryonic chicks, but the researchers hope to see the pioneering work soon reach real-world human application.
Some neurons are genetically-predisposed to be sensitive to light. An emerging field called optogenetics uses light to stimulate and control those neurons, with applications not only in vision but also in gene therapy, brain mapping, reducing pain sensitivity, treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, and even mind control.
The researchers sought to develop an optogenetics approach to restoring vision. They combined semiconductor nanorods and carbon nanotube film and found that the resultant system stimulated neurons in light-insensitive embryonic chicks at day 14 of their development when illuminated with violet light for 100 ms.
In recent years, research has linked sleep problems to Alzheimer’s disease. This relationship involves a neurotransmitter called orexin that awakens the brain from sleep and has been shown to be heightened in moderate to severe sufferers of Alzheimer’s. New research conducted at Washington University in St Louis suggests that removing the orexin protein in mice enables them to sleep longer, which could serve to hinder development of the disease.
One of the ways that the orexin protein and sleep loss can lead to Alzheimer’s is through enabling the development of brain plaques. These build up before and during the onset of Alzheimer’s and correlate with the development of symptoms like memory loss and disorientation, leading scientists to believe that halting their buildup may go some way to combating the disease.
Putting this theory to the test, the researchers used mice that were genetically engineered to possess elevated amyloid beta, the protein that helps to make up brain plaques. By breeding these mice with other mice lacking the orexin protein, the researchers found the offspring had less sleep problems and developed around half as many plaques.
Mice with no orexin slept for around an hour extra during twelve-hour observation periods, while mice with orexin were more lively. Conversely, when the researchers heightened orexin levels, the mice stayed awake for longer and grew more plaques. Another noteworthy finding was that manipulating orexin levels in a section of the brain unrelated to the mouse's ability to sleep had no bearing on levels of plaque.
In recent years, research has linked sleep problems to Alzheimer’s disease. New research shows that removing orexin in mice, a protein that regulates arousa...
For the last two years, the US$2.25 million Nokia Sensing X Challengehas lured entrants from around the globe to submit groundbreaking technologies that improve access to health care. A panel of experts have awarded this year's grand prize to Massachusetts-based DNA Medical Institute (DMI), whose hand-held device is capable of diagnosing ailments in minutes, using only a single drop of blood.
The DMI team were selected from 11 finalists. Among them were Swiss team Biovotion, whose wearable computer monitors vital signs such heart rate and breathing, along with the US-based Eigen Lifescience team, whose low-cost, portable device is capable of testing for Hepatitis B in less than 10 minutes. But it was DMI's Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans system (rHealth) that impressed the judges most.
"Our expert judging panel reviewed a very exciting group of sensing technologies, all with the potential to address a wide array of diagnostic and personal health needs,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of X Prize, the foundation behind the competition. “DMI’s rHealth system embodies the original goal of the Nokia Sensing X Challenge, to advance sensor technology in a way that will enable faster diagnoses and easier, more sophisticated personal health monitoring.”
Doctors are increasingly prescribing SSRIs to treat more than just depression
Antidepressant use among Americans is skyrocketing. Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant. But this spike does not necessarily signify a depression epidemic. Through the early 2000s pharmaceutical companies were aggressively testing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the dominant class of depression drug, for a variety of disorders—the timeline below shows the rapid expansion of FDA-approved uses.
As the drugs' patents expired, companies stopped funding studies for official approval. Yet doctors have continued to prescribe them for more ailments. One motivating factor is that SSRIs are a fairly safe option for altering brain chemistry. Because we know so little about mental illness, many clinicians reason, we might as well try the pills already on the shelf.
The largest-ever genetic study of mental illness reveals a complex set of factors
Schizophrenia is a distressing disorder involving hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and agitation. It affects around one in 100 people in the U.S., with symptoms usually first appearing between the ages of 16 and 30. Its causes have long been debated, particularly regarding whether genetics plays a role. It is known to be highly heritable, but small sample sizes and other methodology hurdles stymied early attempts to discern a genetic link.
Now the biggest-ever genetic study of mental illness has found 128 gene variants associated with schizophrenia, in 108 distinct locations in the human genome. The vast majority of them had never before been linked to the disorder. This finding lays to rest any argument that genetics plays no role.
The study, published in July in Nature, is the result of a collaboration among more than 300 scientists from 35 countries, named the Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. The researchers compared the whole genomes of nearly 37,000 people with schizophrenia with more than 113,000 people without the disorder, in a so-called genome-wide association study (GWAS). Genetic material, or DNA, is made up of a sequence of molecular pairs, thousands of which string together to form genes. The GWAS involves tallying known common mutations in these pairs, in people with and without a condition. Variants that show up significantly more often in people with the condition are said to be “associated” with it. The GWAS “potentially provides a more comprehensive view of the biological players in disease than previous genetic studies,” says Benjamin Neale of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., one of the study's lead authors.
Brain networks in two behaviorally similar vegetative patients (left and middle), but one of whom imagined playing tennis (middle panel), alongside a healthy Scientists in Cambridge, England have found hidden signatures in the brains of people in a vegetative state that point to networks that could support consciousness — even when a patient appears to be unconscious and unresponsive. The study could help doctors identify patients who are aware despite being unable to communicate. Although unable to move and respond, some patients in a vegetative state are able to carry out tasks such as imagining playing a game of tennis, the scientists note. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, researchers have previously been able to record activity in the pre-motor cortex, the part of the brain that deals with movement, in apparently unconscious patients asked to imagine playing tennis. Now, a team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, have used high-density electroencephalographs (EEG) and graph theory to study networks of activity in the brains of 32 patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious and compare them to healthy adults. The researchers showed that the connectome — the rich and diversely connected networks that support awareness in the healthy brain — are typically impaired in patients in a vegetative state. But they also found that some vegetative patients had well-preserved brain networks that look similar to those of healthy adults — these patients were those who had shown signs of hidden awareness by following commands such as imagining playing tennis. Identifying patients who are aware The findings could help researchers develop a relatively simple way of identifying which patients might be aware while in a vegetative state. The “tennis test” can be a difficult task for patients and requires expensive and often unavailable fMRI scanners. The new technique uses EEG, so it could be administered at a patient’s bedside. However, the tennis test is stronger evidence that the patient is indeed conscious, to the extent that they can follow commands using their thoughts. The researchers believe that a combination of such tests could help improve accuracy in the prognosis for a patient. The research findings were published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology (open access). The study was funded mainly by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute of Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
In today's installment of "How 3D Printing is Changing Healthcare Forever," a Massachusetts-based medical device company is forging new ground in knee replacement surgery. A combination of CT imaging, modeling software and 3D printing technology is enabling ConforMIS to offer implants tailored specifically to each patient. The development could help avoid complications that often follow the procedure, such as pain arising from instability of the joint. One of the most promising applications of 3D printing in medical fields is its ability to produce patient-specific devices. We have recently seen 3D-printed implants enable a teenager to walk again, substitute cancerous vertebra in the neck, enable customized spinal fusion surgery and replace upper and lower jaws. Knee replacement surgery is a procedure undertaken by around 700,000 people annually, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Issues that can arise range from minor blood loss and infections, to the threat of deep venous thrombosis. But the team at ComforMIS believes it can improve on traditional methods by steering away from generic, "off-the-shelf" implants to a more customizable solution. The company's approach is much like others used in the production of 3D-printed implants. A CT scan is taken of the patient's hip, knee and ankle, with the company's specialized software converting the scan into an exact 3D model of the patient's deteriorating knee. Using this model, personalized implants and instruments are made as one-off devices, produced, in part, by 3D printers.
Many of us drink green tea for its wonderful health benefits, including proven antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. Now, researchers in Singapore have taken its cancer-fighting properties to the next level, developing a green tea-based nanocarrier that encapsulates cancer-killing drugs. It is the first time green tea has been used to deliver drugs to cancer cells, with promising results. Animal studies show far more effective tumor reduction than use of the drug alone while significantly reducing the accumulation of drugs in other organs.
The new drug delivery system, developed at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR, uses epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant and catechin found in green tea and used therapeutically to treat cancer and other disorders.
"We have developed a green tea-based carrier in which the carrier itself displayed anti-cancer effect and can boost cancer treatment when used together with the protein drug," says Dr Motoichi Kurisawa, IBN Principal Research Scientist and Team Leader.
One of the main drawbacks of chemotherapy is that it also kills healthy cells in surrounding tissues and organs. Carriers allow more accurate treatment, acting like homing missiles that target diseased cells and release cancer-destroying drugs. However, the amount of the drug they can deliver is limited so more carriers need to be administered for treatment to be effective. Current carriers are made of materials that at best offer no therapeutic value and at worst may have adverse effects when used in large quantities, so the green tea-based carrier is an exciting development.
Drug derived from the fruit of the blushwood tree kills cancerous tumours long-term in animals in 70% of cases.
Scientists have managed to destroy cancerous tumours by using an experimental drug derived from the seeds of a fruit found in north Queensland rainforests.
The drug, called EBC-46, was produced by extracting a compound from the berry of the blushwood tree, a plant only found in specific areas of the Atherton Tablelands.
A single injection of the drug directly into melanoma models in the laboratory, as well as into cancers of the head, neck and colon in animals, destroyed the tumours long-term in more than 70% of cases, the study’s lead author, Dr Glen Boyle, said.
“In preclinical trials we injected it into our models and within five minutes, you see a purpling of the area that looks like a bruise,” Boyle, from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute said.
“About 24 hours later, the tumour area goes black, a couple of days later you see a scab, and at around the 1.5 week mark, the scab falls off, leaving clean skin with no tumour there. The speed certainly surprised me.”
Researchers believe the drug triggers a cellular response which cuts off the blood supply to the tumour by opening it up.
“That’s why we see a bruise-like situation forming in the tumour,” Boyle said. “This seems to lead to an activation of the body’s own immune system which then comes in and cleans up the mess.”
It has been used by veterinarians in about 300 cases of cancer in companion animals including dogs, cats and horses.
There was no evidence EBC-46 would be effective to treat cancers that had spread to other parts of the body, known as metastatic cancers, Boyle said.
The drug is being developed as a human and veterinary pharmaceutical through QBiotics, a subsidiary of the company which discovered the drug, called EcoBiotics. The company is also examining the potential for a blushwood plantation.
After decades of research, scientists are bioengineering penises in the lab, writes Dara Mohammadi
Gathered around an enclosure at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina in 2008, Anthony Atala and his colleagues watched anxiously to see if two rabbits would have sex. The suspense was short-lived: within a minute of being put together, the male mounted the female and successfully mated.
While it’s not clear what the rabbits made of the moment, for Atala it was definitely special. It was proof that a concept he’d been working on since 1992 – that penises could be grown in a laboratory and transplanted to humans – was theoretically possible. The male rabbit was one of 12 for which he had bioengineered a penis; all tried to mate; in eight there was proof of ejaculation; four went on to produce offspring.
The media’s coverage of Atala’s announcement a year later was understandably excited. Not just because of the novelty of a man growing penises in a laboratory, but because his work would fulfil a real need for men who have lost their penis through genital defects, traumatic injury, surgery for aggressive penile cancer, or even jilted lovers exacting revenge.
At present, the only treatment option for these men is to have a penis constructed with skin and muscle from their thigh or forearm. Sexual function can be restored with a penile prosthetic placed inside. The prosthetics can be either malleable rods, with the penis left in a permanently semi-rigid state and thus difficult to conceal, or inflatable rods, which have a saline pump housed in the scrotum. Both technologies have been around since the 1970s. The aesthetics are crude and penetration is awkward.
Another option is a penis transplant from another individual, but this carries a risk of immunological rejection. The chance of organ death can be lessened with anti-rejection drugs, but these drugs have serious side-effects. Transplants can also have a psychological impact, especially with an organ as intimate as the penis. In 2006, a Chinese man was the first to receive a donor penis; two weeks after the 15-hour operation, surgeons removed the transplanted organ on the request of both the patient and his partner.
Eating a Mediterranean diet might be a recipe for a long life because it appears to keep us genetically younger, say researchers.
Following a Mediterranean diet might be a recipe for a long life because it appears to keep people genetically younger, say US researchers.
Its mix of vegetables, olive oil, fresh fish and fruits may stop our DNA code from scrambling as we age, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.
Nurses who adhered to the diet had fewer signs of ageing in their cells.
The researchers from Boston followed the health of nearly 5,000 nurses over more than a decade.
The Mediterranean diet has been repeatedly linked to health gains, such as cutting the risk of heart disease.
Although it's not clear exactly what makes it so good, its key components - an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as poultry and fish, rather than lots of red meat, butter and animal fats - all have well documented beneficial effects on the body.
Foods rich in vitamins appear to provide a buffer against stress and damage of tissues and cells. And it appears from this latest study that a Mediterranean diet helps protect our DNA.
The researchers looked at tiny structures called telomeres that safeguard the ends of our chromosomes, which store our DNA code.
These protective caps prevent the loss of genetic information during cell division.
A new lab chip is giving researchers an unprecedented look at how cancer cells spread.
A new lab chip is giving researchers an unprecedented look at the complex process that spreads cancer from its birthplace to other parts of the body.
By showing scientists precisely how tumor cells travel, the tool may help them plot new strategies for preventing metastasis, which leads to more than 90 percent of cancer deaths.
The work is published in the journal Cancer Research.
“There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how tumor cells migrate through the body, partly because, even using our best imaging technology, we haven’t been able to see precisely how these individual cells move into blood vessels,” says lead researcher Andrew D. Wong, a graduate student in materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“Our new tool gives us a clearer, close-up look at this process.”
The WHO says we are headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill...
It’s no secret we are facing an antibiotic crisis. Overuse has caused widespread antibiotic resistance, leading the World Health Organisation to declare we are "headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill." Scientists from the University of Bern have developed a new non-antibiotic compound that treats severe bacterial infections and avoids the problem of bacterial resistance.
We have a lot to thank antibiotics for. Before the discovery of penicillin 90 years ago pneumonia, tuberculosis, or even an infected cut could be fatal. And today, many of our routine surgical procedures are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics.
However, up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary or inappropriate according to the Centers for Disease Control, and this overuse is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance.
Although there have been many developments over the years, such as antibiotic "smart bombs", the difficulty has been eliminating bacteria without also promoting bacterial resistance. This has created a need to strive for non-antibiotic approaches, including "ninja polymers" and more natural treatments like raw honey and natural proteins.
This latest non-antibiotic compound developed by Eduard Babiychuk and Annette Draeger from the Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern, and tested by a team of international scientists, was created by engineering artificial nanoparticles made of lipids, "liposomes" that closely resemble the membrane of host cells.
While the idea of cruising around in a 3D-printed car and munching on 3D-printed chocolate before returning to a 3D-printed home sure is nice, no industry is poised to benefit from this burgeoning technology in quite the way that medicine is. Replacing cancerous vertebra, delivering cancer-fighting drugs and assisting in spinal fusion surgery are just some of the examples we've covered here at Gizmag. The latest groundbreaking treatment involves an Indian cancer patient, who has had his upper jaw replaced with the help of 3D printing..
A crop of books by disillusioned physicians reveals a corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our health-care crisis
..Ours is a technologically proficient but emotionally deficient and inconsistent medical system that is best at treating acute, not chronic, problems: for every instance of expert treatment, skilled surgery, or innovative problem-solving, there are countless cases of substandard care, overlooked diagnoses, bureaucratic bungling, and even outright antagonism between doctor and patient. For a system that invokes “patient-centered care” as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive—at times actively indifferent—to patients’ needs.
To my surprise, I’ve now learned that patients aren’t alone in feeling that doctors are failing them. Behind the scenes, many doctors feel the same way. And now some of them are telling their side of the story. A recent crop of books offers a fascinating and disturbing ethnography of the opaque land of medicine, told by participant-observers wearing lab coats. What’s going on is more dysfunctional than I imagined in my worst moments. Although we’re all aware of pervasive health-care problems and the coming shortage of general practitioners, few of us have a clear idea of how truly disillusioned many doctors are with a system that has shifted profoundly over the past four decades. These inside accounts should be compulsory reading for doctors, patients, and legislators alike. They reveal a crisis rooted not just in rising costs but in the very meaning and structure of care. Even the most frustrated patient will come away with respect for how difficult doctors’ work is. She may also emerge, as I did, pledging (in vain) that she will never again go to a doctor or a hospital.
One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain. This discovery has led to a surge of interest in potential gut-based treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and a new class of studies investigating how the gut and its microbiome affect both healthy and diseased brains.
The microbiome consists of a startlingly massive number of organisms. Nobody knows exactly how many or what type of microbes there might be in and on our bodies, but estimates suggest there may be anywhere from three to 100 times more bacteria in the gut than cells in the human body. The Human Microbiome Project, co-ordinated by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), seeks to create a comprehensive database of the bacteria residing throughout the gastrointestinal tract and to catalogue their properties.
The lives of the bacteria in our gut are intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. The relationship goes both ways: the microbiome influences the function of these systems, which in turn alter the activity and composition of the bacterial community. We are starting to unravel this complexity and gain insight into how gut bacteria interface with the rest of the body and, in particular, how they affect the brain.
With the recent and highly publicized death of actor Robin Williams, depression is once again making national headlines. And for good reason
With the recent and highly publicized death of actor Robin Williams, depression is once again making national headlines. And for good reason. Usually, the conversation about depression turns to the search for effective treatments, which currently include cognitive behavioral therapy and drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
However, an equally important issue is the timely and proper diagnosis of depression.
Currently, depression is diagnosed by a physical and psychological examination, but it mostly depends on self-reporting of subjective symptoms like depressed mood, lack of motivation, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Many people who might want to avoid a depression diagnosis for various reasons can fake their way through this self-reporting, making it likely that depression is actually under-diagnosed.
Therefore, an objective test could be an important development in properly diagnosing and treating depression. Scientists at Northwestern University may have developed such a diagnostic tool, one that requires no more than a simple test tube of blood.