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About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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February 28, 2005

Multiple Sclerosis Drug Tysabri Pulled Off Market

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Biogen Idec and Elan announced Monday they have voluntarily withdrawn Tysabri, a drug used to treat multiple sclerosis, after one patient died and another developed a serious disease of the central nervous system after taking it in combination with Avonex for more than two years.

Tysabri was approved last November by the FDA after several years of clinical trials and is the first humanized monoclonal antibody approved for the treatment of MS. It acts by inhibiting adhesion molecules (docking devices) on the surface of immune cells lymphocytes.

Stocks of both companies were pounded in early trading today down 40% (BIIB) and 70% (ELN), respectively. The companies said in a news release that they have suspended supplying and marketing the drug and advised doctors to suspend prescribing the medication. The companies also have stopped using the drug in clinical trials.

MS affects over 400,000 Americans and over 2 million individuals worldwide.

CORRECTION/UPDATE 03/07: Due to an error in an Associated Press story on Friday, this blog incorrectly stated a second patient taking Tysabri had died as a result of PML. One patient died, while the second patient was confirmed to have contracted progressive multifocal leukoencephalopath.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

February 25, 2005

Why Are Illusions Fascinating?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Why do inverted faces lose their emotional meaning? Why do certain types of motion induced blindness? How can a few dots on a screen seem meaningless, but once set in motion become easily recognizable biological creatures?

Everyone, from young children to my 94 year-old grandmother are fascinated by optical illusions. During the 20th century vision science has made significant progress thanks to CRT displays and digital programming. Still, current technologies have inherent limits. For more illusions and to understand the science behind them I highly recommend visiting this amazing website.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Perception Shift

February 24, 2005

February 23, 2005

FDA Clears MDMA Trial for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

In an effort to help traumatized American soldiers the Guardian reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has given the green light for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: "It's looking very promising. It's too early to draw any conclusions but in these treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging. "People are able to connect more deeply on an emotional level with the fact they are safe now."

According to the National Center for PSTD up to 30% of combat veterans suffer from the condition at some point in their lives. If these trials prove to be effective for veterans, it would be wise to open up this effective emoticeutical tool to the broader global public quickly.

Update: 1/3 of active and retired police in the US suffer from PSTD. For more info please see tearsofacop

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

February 16, 2005

Neurotechnology Industry Research

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Industry research on a global scale is never easy, even for the largest organizations. For example, when the World Health Organization attempted to systematically collect information on expenditure on mental health across the countries in the European Region in 2001 only 23 of the 52 countries provided any information at all.

Over the past year, NeuroInsights has been developing a report on the global neurotechnology industry. In one section we have aggregated various data sources in order to estimate the prevalence of major neurological diseases and psychiatric illness for the U.S. and worldwide. Here are our current numbers:

NeuroIlness WW NeuroInsights.jpg

I'd be very interested if anyone has different numbers.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

February 14, 2005

Neurodating.com - Beyond Match.com

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Looking for love? Then check out neurodating.com:

"Advancements in neurotechnology have had a significant impact on the neurosciences in the past decade given unprecedented convenience, safety, and relevance to a broad range of neurobehavioral phenomena. There is a growing regard for the novelty and breadth of purposes for neuroimaging and, over time, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("fMRI") use has expanded from the research laboratory to the clinical realm and even social terrain.

With the advent of this powerful new neurotechnological capability, it is foreseeable that functional images of the brain could be used to facilitate courtships by assessing personal compatibility. As a research team devoted to ethics in advanced neuroimaging, we are considering what this future may bring: How might brain imaging for dating -- "neurodating" -- be provided? Will brain images really provide useful information in the pursuit of a prospective mate? And who will protect the privacy and rights of the consumers seeking love or, at the least, an ideal scan-mate?"

Is neurodating for real? Well, no, but some day it could be and that's the point Dr. Judy Illes, Director of Stanford's Center for Neuroethics is trying to make by publishing this website. I highly recommend checking out her research on cutting edge issues in neuroethics at her Stanford site.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

February 13, 2005

February 11, 2005

DHEA For Depression and Stress Reduction

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Integrative and "alternative" approaches to improving an individual's well-being are finally receiving the respect they deserve. In a recent report, supported by the NIMH and published the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that the naturally occurring hormone DHEA improves the mood of clinically depressed individuals. In particular, low levels of DHEA in the blood relative to cortisol, correlate to higher levels of depression in individuals in their 20s and those in their 60s.

In another report, "researchers at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have found that the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone-S (DHEA-S),which is known to enhance memory and reduce depression and aggression in mice, appears to have a role in coping with stress. It is secreted by the outer portion of the adrenal gland in response to stress and the highest levels are achieved at ages twenty to twenty-five, dropping continuously as we age. Soldiers, studied during grueling military survival school exercises, were found to have the fewest symptoms of dissociation, which is known to present a higher risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder, were found in the soldiers with the highest ratio of DHEA-S to the stress hormone, cortisol. They also performed better under pressure, in terms of the survival school exercises. This appears to indicate that the DHEA-S acts as a buffer against a negative stress impact but it is not know exactly what determines how much is produced."

Although DHEA is available over-the-counter, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that you don't take it without medical supervision as over-the-counter brands of DHEA may not be as reliable as prescription forms.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

February 10, 2005

Severe Emotional Stress or Heart Attack?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Randall Parker writes today about how severe emotional stress can release chemicals that mimic a heart attack.

"In the Hopkins study, to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine online Feb. 10, the research team found that some people may respond to sudden, overwhelming emotional stress by releasing large amounts of catecholamines (notably adrenalin and noradrenalin, also called epinephrine and norepinephrine) into the blood stream, along with their breakdown products and small proteins produced by an excited nervous system. These chemicals can be temporarily toxic to the heart, effectively stunning the muscle and producing symptoms similar to a typical heart attack, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath and heart failure.

Upon closer examination, though, the researchers determined that cases of stress cardiomyopathy were clinically very different from a typical heart attack."

Click on the link to read more of Randall's excellent analysis.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

February 8, 2005

February 7, 2005

Is Lovesickness a Psychiatric Disorder?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Independent reports today on the growing belief that lovesickness should be categorized as a psychiatric illness:

"Falling in love used to be fun. Now doctors are warning that the throes of passion should be seen as a potentially fatal medical disorder. Psychologists say that "lovesickness" is a genuine disease that needs more awareness and diagnosis....Symptoms can include mania, such as an elevated mood and inflated self-esteem, or depression, revealing itself as tearfulness and insomnia...Aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder can also be found in those experiencing lovesickness, such as preoccupation and obsessively checking for text messages and e-mails...Professor Alex Gardner, a clinical psychologist in Glasgow and a member of the British Psychological Society, said doctors needed to be more aware of lovesickness as a possible diagnosis in their patients. "People can die from a broken heart," he said. "Lovesickness is probably extremely common."

While I have no doubt that lovesickness is common, I am increasingly concerned about the continuing trend of defining mental health problems with terms that do not correlate to the underlying neurobiology of the illness. Broad, top down descriptions of psychiatric conditions like this that are defined primarily via evaluation of externally observed symptoms confuse rather that improve accurate diagnosis and treatment.

I would like to see a neuroimaging study performed on a wide selection of those suffering from lovesickness to see if there is a common neurobiological explanation for this illness. My bet is that there would be little correlation among participants as the definition is too all encompassing.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

February 5, 2005

The Chemical Architecture of the Human Mind by Tom Ray

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Last year, in a six part series, interdisciplinary neuroecoscientist Tom Ray shared a simplified version of his work on using psychedelics to probe and map the receptor space of the human mind here on Brain Waves. The following is a more technical overview of his brilliant work.

The Chemical Architecture of the Human Mind: Probing Receptor Space with Psychedelics
by Tom Ray

Nineteen psychedelics (2C-B, 2C-B-fly, DOB, DOI, DOM, 2C-E, 2C-T-2, ALEPH-2, Mescaline, MEM, MDA, MDMA, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 5-MeO-MIPT, DIPT, 5-MeO-DIPT, DPT, Psilocin) and three controls (lisuride 6-fluoro-DMT, 4C-T-2) have each been screened against the full panel of over one hundred receptors, transporters and ion channels by the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drug Screening Program (NIMH-PDSP), providing the first comprehensive view of how these compounds interact with the human receptome.

Each individual psychedelic causes a unique spectrum of subjective effects. DIPT causes auditory distortion. 5-MeO-DIPT enhances orgasm in males but not females. MDMA provokes empathy. TMA provokes anger. Mescaline provokes an appreciation of beauty. 2C-B causes tactile, gustatory and sexual enhancement. 2C-E provokes rich fantasy and introspection. Taken collectively, these compounds provide a rich set of tools for probing and revealing the chemical organization of the human brain and the mind that emerges from it.

The project aims to understand the mechanisms underlying the qualitative diversity of actions of psychedelics, by locating each drug in an abstract " receptor space", a coordinate system with one axis for each receptor. Drugs shift the balance of activity of the brain away from the origin, by a vector representing the profile of binding affinities at different receptors. Drugs perturb the system through increasing or decreasing transmission or transmitter levels, or up or down regulating receptor populations.

In a brain-centered reference frame, the origin is based on absolute levels of activity at each receptor population. The state of the brain is constantly on the move, regardless of medication. We can think of it as a complex dynamical system, in which the trajectory follows high-dimensional orbits, and switches among many "attractors", where the attractors represent the major emotional states and moods, and whatever mental phenomena the chemical systems are mediating.

In this dynamic reference frame, drugs will create a perturbation along the binding vector, thereby pushing the system into a new attractor. We want to understand how patterns of activity at receptor populations associate with mental phenomena. We want to get to know the pharmacology of the attractors. By correlating the subjective effects of a diverse selection of psychedelic drugs with the position of the drugs in "receptor space", we can begin to map the chemical organization of the human mind.

The current project is charting the distribution of psychedelics in "receptor space". In future work, new human data will be needed, using subjective questionnaires and brain imaging, as in the work of Vollenweider. For human work, compounds will be carefully chosen to represent distinct regions of "receptor space", or distinct subjective effects.

The goal of mapping "receptor space" is to chart the relationships between complex alterations in chemical signaling, and resulting changes in neural activity and mental states. This empirical knowledge can form a foundation for the development of a theory of the chemistry of mind, and provide a more rational basis for the development of chemical treatments for mental disorders. The understanding of the chemistry of consciousness is the ultimate goal of this research.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

February 3, 2005

Cyberonics Neurodevice Receives Approval Recommendation For Depression

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Correction: The FDA didn't approve the device yet, the panel recommended approval after they meet certain requirements for labeling, protocols for dosing, and a few other things - final approval/launch expected in late May.

Cyberonics shares soared Thursday after the FDA reversed an earlier decision and approved its experimental treatment for depression. The neurodevice company's pacemaker-like device, which is surgically implanted into a patient, has been available in the U.S. since 1997 as a treatment for epilepsy. The Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy System was approved as a long-term adjunctive treatment for patients over the age of 18 with chronic or recurrent treatment-resistant depression in a major depressive episode that has not responded to at least four adequate antidepressant treatments.

This highlights an important trend in the emerging neurotechnology industry:
neurodevices and neuropharmaceutical companies will increasingly compete for market share as they strive towards developing for better tools to treat mental illnesses. Indeed, Cyberonics already has pilot studies underway to evaluate VNS Therapy as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic headache/migraine.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodevices

February 2, 2005

Blog, Book, Blog, Book - 101 Bloggers

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Virginia Postrel notes the high cost of blogging for authors, as Andrew Sullivan joins the ranks of many others in choosing to reduce blogging in order to focus on writing a book. As I wrote two years ago, Andrew in not alone. Not only have I found it relatively difficult to write an interesting daily blog while simultaneously write a engaging, well researched book, but others have too:

William Gibson: "I could not write a novel and keep the blog at the same time."
Virginia Postrel: "I'm too easily distracted to blog and concentrate on my book at the same time."
Steven Johnson: "...after a three-month stretch of writing almost every day (on his latest book) I feel pretty good...albeit a little guilty for neglecting the blog..."

Jon Strande has solved this issue for 101 of us bloggers, all of whom (including myself are in the midst of compiling a book called, 101 Bloggers: The Power of A New Conversation. More on this later.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging

February 1, 2005

Think Better Than Steven Johnson

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Writers, researchers and all the rest of us information saturated, multi-tasking individuals should follow Steven Johnson's lead on how to best organize one's thoughts. Steven is an extremely prolific and successful writer. He is the author of several excellent books like Mind Wide Open, a monthly columnist for Discover magazine as well as a being a guest blogger here on Brain Waves.

In last Sunday's Times Book Review he revealed the research system software package he has been using for the past few years, called DevonThink. From Steven's blog, Tool for Thought:

"I've used the tool for exploring the couple thousand notes and quotations that I've assembled over the past decade -- along with the text of finished essays and books. I suspect there will be a number of you curious about the technical details, so I've put together a little overview here, along with some specific observations. For starters, though, go read the essay and then come back once you've got an overview."

If you are interested in what other people are saying about the tool, I recommend the following links: John Battelle's SearchBlog, Auxiliary Memory, Jots, and Geek. I'm about to purchase it and will let you know in a few months how well it is working for me.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging