A controversial experiment proposed by a McLean Hospital researcher to measure the effects of radiation on squirrel monkeys has been "removed from consideration for experimental time," according to Brookhaven National Laboratory.
For months, activists that oppose animal research have been protesting the experiment, which entailed exposing squirrel monkeys to radiation at Brookhaven. Follow-up studies on the monkeys would have occurred under the oversight of Jack Bergman, an associate professor of psychobiology at McLean. The experiment was intended to better understand the effects of radiation exposure on astronauts during missions. NASA informed Brookhaven on Dec. 8 that it planned to review research initiatives to see if they fit with the current goals for human spaceflight.
"In light of this review, NASA has informed Brookhaven that a proposal involving primate research at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory on the Brookhaven Lab site should be removed from consideration for experimental time at the facility," a note posted on the Brookhaven's website stated.
McLean Hospital spokeswoman Adriana Bobinchock referred questions about the matter to NASA.
"NASA is going to undertake a comprehensive review of the agency's current research and technology development plans..." the NASA statement said. "We look forward to the findings of that review, which will inform our decision making moving forward."
Activists who opposed the research applauded the decision.
"Bombarding live monkeys with radiation is cruel and scientifically useless," said Dr. John J. Pippin, senior medical and research adviser to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit that has sought to halt the experiments.
Scans that reveal flaws in the brain’s circuitry may one day be used to diagnose autism, researchers from McLean Hospital say today in a report on what they call the best biological test to date for the baffling disorder.
Nicholas Lange and colleagues write in the journal Autism Research that their neuroimaging studies were able to distinguish people with autism from control subjects 94 percent of the time using an MRI that took about 10 minutes. The scans focused on three parts of the brain that are known to be impaired in autism: areas involving language, social and emotional function. Currently autism is diagnosed after hours of interviews with parents and observation of a child, usually 2 to 3 years old, who does not appear to be developing normally.
“This is the best biological test in research so far,” Lange said in an interview. “We all want to know what we can and cannot change about the disorder and how to improve the lives of people with autism. This is a major step toward that goal and more research needs to be done before it is ready for clinical use.”FULL ENTRY
Young people who start smoking marijuana before they turn 16 may damage their brains more than people who start later, according to a small study from McLean Hospital released today. Early-onset users also smoke more marijuana and more often over the course of a week than later-onset users, the researchers found.
Neuroscientists had previously shown that people who regularly smoke large amounts of marijuana do not do well on tests of memory and other mental abilities. Staci Gruber, director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, led a team that tested mental focus and flexibility among 33 young marijuana users and 26 non-users recruited from greater Boston.
“Age really does matter,” she said. “Early onset is related to more frequent and higher magnitude of use and significantly greater impairment on these tasks, which ultimately could result in greater difficulty with everyday life activities and decision-making. That’s a
People with chronic PTSD got better when they took the drug known as “ecstasy” as part of unusually lengthy psychotherapy sessions, a small study reports today.
Rick Doblin, executive director of the Belmont-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and his colleagues tested the drug MDMA in 20 patients who had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for an average of 19 years. After random assignments, 12 of the people took MDMA and the other eight took placebos during two psychotherapy sessions that each lasted eight hours. They were tested for symptoms of PTSD before the study began, four days after each session, and again after two months.
At the end of the trial, 10 of the 12 people in the MDMA group and two of the eight people on placebos improved enough that they no longer met the criteria for PTSD. There were more side effects during treatment -- higher blood pressure, pulse and body temperature -- in the MDMA group, but no serious medical problems. All the study subjects stayed overnight in an outpatient office where a nurse was available.
“What we found is astonishing,” Doblin said in an interview. “It is not the MDMA that helps PTSD, but the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.”FULL ENTRY
The illegal supplements, which mimic the male hormone testosterone, can damage the liver, harm male fertility, and cause violent mood swings, but their effects on the heart have not been as clear. Dr. Harrison Pope of McLean and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a small study of male body builders to answer the question. Their results appear in the current issue of the American Heart Association Journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
The researchers recruited participants through ads in gyms popular with weight lifters. They enrolled 12 steroids users, who had been taking the drugs for an average of nine years. Seven nonusers were included as a comparison group. Across both groups the average age was 40 and their exercise habits were similar. Their medical history, weight, and body fat content were also recorded. To test their heart function, they all had echocardiograms, which are tests that use sounds waves to show blood moving through the heart.
The heart tests showed that the steroids users had a lower ability to pump blood through their hearts compared to the nonsteroid users. A healthy person's left ventricle can pump 55 to 70 percent of the blood that fills the heart, according to the American Heart Association, but the steroid users' average capacity was 50 percent, placing them at increased risk of heart failure and sudden cardiac death. For the nonusers in the study, the rate was 59 percent.
"Cardiac dysfunction in long-term [steroids] users appears more severe than previously reported, and may be sufficient to increase the risk of heart failure," the authors wrote, noting that the first wave of long-term illegal steroids users from the 1980s may just be reaching middle age now.
Chocolate lovers rejoiced when research tied their favorite food to heart health -- at least the dark kind rich in antioxidants. Now a new study from California hints that dark moods might be linked to eating more chocolate.
Researchers from the Davis and San Diego branches of the University of California set out to systematically track down any relationship between chocolate and mood, something that only a few small studies had examined. They turned to an existing cholesterol study that involved about a thousand healthy men and women. The participants were asked questions about their diet, including how often they ate chocolate. They also completed a questionnaire used to screen people for depression.
People who scored high enough to be considered depressed said they ate an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month, with a serving equal to one small bar, or about 1 ounce. That was significantly more than the 5.4 servings consumed by people not considered depressed. Those who appeared to have major depression reported even higher amounts of chocolate: 11.8 servings per month.
Boston hospitals made a strong showing in the newest US News & World Report rankings.
Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital both scored high on the honor roll for hospitals with top scores in at least six of the 16 specialties rated. Mass. General was fifth and the Brigham was 10th on the 21-member list.
The rankings are based on patient outcomes, reputation, and care-related measures. Out of 4,861 hospitals in the country, 174 scored high enough to be included on the specialty lists.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center made the top 50 in eight specialties and Boston Medical Center was ranked in three.FULL ENTRY
When crimes of violence are committed by people with mental illness, some wonder why more can't be done to prevent such horrifying acts. But the answer isn't so simple, a large study of multiple factors associated with violence concludes.
Mental illness by itself does not predict future violent behavior, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine report in tomorrow's Archives of General Psychiatry, echoing previous smaller studies. Only when it is combined with other problems -- substance abuse, stressors like the loss of a job or a spouse, and a history of violence -- is an increase in violence seen, the researchers found in a national survey of more than 34,000 people.
"I think the real important finding here is that just because someone has a mental illness, it does not mean they are going to act violent," said Donald Davidoff, director of neuropsychology at McLean Hospital. He was not involved in the study. "Mental illness alone is not a significant risk factor."
But people with both mental illness and substance abuse had a 10 times higher risk of being violent than people with mental illness alone.
"Because severe mental illness did not independently predict future violent behavior, these findings challenge perceptions that mental illness is a leading cause of violence in the general population," the authors wrote. "Still, people with mental illness did report violence more often, largely because they showed other factors associated with violence. Consequently, understanding the link between violent acts and mental disorder requires consideration of its association with other variables such as substance abuse, environmental stressors and history of violence."
Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell takes her research seriously, grounding her fiction in the real thing by visiting McLean Hospital in 2004 to learn about the mysteries of the human brain and the depression, rage, and substance abuse that affect her characters.
McLean has now recruited her to join its National Council as an ambassador for mental health around the world, the Harvard-affiliated hospital said today.
“Her outreach efforts through her novels and her willingness to push psychiatric illness to the forefront of everyday conversation is helping to eliminate the stigma of these diseases,” McLean president and psychiatrist in chief Dr. Scott L. Rauch said in a statement. “We are excited to have her as part of our advocacy team.”
Two Boston hospitals make US News & World Report's latest Best Hospitals rankings look a little like "Partners and Everyone Else," to borrow a phrase from former Globe business columnist Steve Bailey.
That's because Partners stalwarts Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital are the only ones in the state to crack the magazine's 19-member Honor Roll. The distinction signifies hospitals that scored at or near the top in at least six of the list's 16 specialties. Pediatrics will have its own ranking in the fall.
Not that other hospitals didn't perform well. Our medical mecca's reputation is still intact with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, McLean Hospital, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital all finishing in the top 10 of various specialties.
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
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