Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sh. Nirmal Singh, Ex -Minister, Haryana flag off the drug prevention Rally rally

On 26th June 2012,Nai kiran Peer led Drug De-addiction and Rehabilitation Centre, Shahpur, Ambala took out a rally on the occasion of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Nai Kiran is a member of Nada India network member.

Sh. Nirmal Singh, Ex -Minister, Haryana addressed the members of the Rally and encourage them by showing Green Flag to the Rally. The Rally started at 9:00 AM from Ambala Cantt., Railway Station and cover various places, Swastik Chow, Football Chowk, Vijayratan Chowk, Gud Mandi and Govt. College etc.  it took 3:00 hours to cover the total distance. 

During Rally, the members were giving messages like "Nasha Ek Bimari hai, Iska Elaj Jarori hai". (Addiction is disease and treatment is possible   Prof. Satish Mudgil, (Volunteer of Nai Kiran), Sh. Mandeep (Ex-addict and volunteer of Nai Kiran), Sh. Tarif Singh, Treasurer Nai Kiran, Sh. Parveen Sharma, Link Officer Nai Kiran, Sh. Satbeer Dabas, Peer educator, Nai Kiran lead the Rally.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Substance Abuse Treatment Helps Mental Health reputed addiction treatment rehab centers provide substance abuse treatment to the patients. This helps the patients to get cured and become strong enough from mind to fight the addictions. These days, alcohol, drug, cocaine, heroin, etc are the major addictions found in adolescent and in adults across the country. In case, you are one of the above, then immediately contact the most reputed and reliable name in the alcohol and drug rehab centers in the town. The health organization is a non-profitable medical institute that provides various types of efficient treatments to cure all types of addictions. Substance abuse treatment is considered as the major tools in rehabilitating the patients.
Substance abuse treatment helps the patients to avoid and eliminate all types of disturbances, and disorders such as depression from the mind. In other words, such treatments help the mental health grow stronger and stable. Once the stage is attained where brain or mental condition can be control, the evidence-based programs help patients to find quickest results in rehab centers. To get started, patients just need to do the following four things, the points are listed below:
1. Phone call: The health services are available round-the-clock, the patients just need to call and provide all the details. The representatives of substance abuse treatment provide initial advices and understand the nature of concern. Every important detail is taken during the telephonic conversation related to the addiction and abuse.
2. Assessment & Planning: The assessment helps to understand the patient's mental health which is influenced by the impact of drug or alcohol. Depending upon the situation, the assessment can be done on the phone but the better way is to visit in person to offer best understand concerning to the issue. During the assessment of substance abuse treatment, the medical practitioners decide the right level of services to cure the addition quickly and efficiently. The treatment gets started by using the evidence-based programs to cure the patients efficiently and effectively.
3. Charges: The patients are mostly provided outpatient treatments to save their time and money. The treatments and consultations provided in the health services are provided without earning a single profit in substance abuse treatments. Therefore, charges paid by patients to alcohol and drug rehab centers are concerns to the equipment and medicine used. Thus, calling the treatments nominal or reasonable will be wrong. The rehab centers do not ask for any extra charges from the patience.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Substance Abuse diagnosis rehab centers are the kind of rehab centers that provides treatment for both drug and alcohol addiction. According to a recent survey, 53% of the people who are addicted to drugs also suffer from a mental illness. Likewise, about 50% people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder. It is a proof that substance abuse is directly related to mental disorder. For such people nowadays there are dual diagnosis treatment centers available. These centers provide treatments for people who are suffering from both mental illness and some kind of addiction. People who are suffering from these two problems have problems in maintaining emotional and psychological stability. In these rehab centers the patients go through various stages to recover from their addiction and mental disorder.
The first stage of this treatment includes complete detoxification of the addicted person. The patients are carefully purified of all the drug and alcohol residues present in their bodies. During this procedure the patient may suffer from severe withdrawal but with proper care and medication, they are able to deal with it. After the patient is cleared from foreign residues, the next step is to evaluate the mental disorder from which the patient is suffering from? This process includes collecting data by way of question and answer sessions, psychiatric evaluations, behavioral monitoring etc. Diagnosing the correct mental disorder is crucial to cure the patient.
After this the patient is treated with proper medication and counseling. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines are provided to the patients if its necessary. Along with proper medication and treatment, the patients are also given a good amount of love, care and affection so that they get motivated to deal with their addiction and recover from it. The success rates of these rehab centers differ as they are dependent on various factors. These factors are the patient's illness, its history, nature and most importantly the patient's willingness to get out of his addiction. Patients who are treated in a well known and capable dual diagnosis rehab center are able to attain full recovery provided they cooperate with the doctors and try their best to recover from his addiction to some kind of drugs or alcohol.
But you should be aware of the fact that this treatment is often longer in duration and more complex than other traditional rehab centers. It is mainly because of the added complexity of the mental health treatment. A good such a treatment is comprised of an intensive 12 week course which includes medication, therapy, counseling and various other components. Till now a good number of people have been benefited from this program and the number is increasing with each passing day. Since there are many such service centers available nowadays, doing some amount of research will be beneficial for you to get information about a good such treatment center. Getting admitted there will help the addicted person to overcome from the trauma and sadness that is associated with drug and alcohol addiction.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beware Stimulus Effects in Psychology

Recently I've blogged about methodological problems in neuroscience research but just to even things out a bit, here's a paper that highlights a potentially serious issue for psychologists - Treating Stimuli as a Random Factor in Social Psychology: A New and Comprehensive Solution to a Pervasive but Largely Ignored Problem

Suppose you want to find out whether people react differently to stimuli from two different groups. The reactions, stimuli, and groups could be anything: maybe you want to see if people prefer listening to sound clips of cats as opposed to dogs. Or maybe you show people photos of blonde men vs dark-haired men and see whether people judge guys with one colour as less trustworthy.

A lot of psychology studies amount to this.

Going with the blonde vs. dark example, suppose you take 1000 volunteers, show them some pictures of blonde guys and dark guys, and get them to rate them on trustworthiness. You find a significant difference between the two groups of stimuli. You conclude that your volunteers are hair-bigots and submit it as a paper. The reviewers think, 1000 volunteers? That's a big sample size. They publish it.

Now that study I just described might be perfectly valid. But it might be seriously flawed. The problem is that while your sample size may be large in terms of volunteers, it might be very small in another way. Suppose you have just 10 photos per group. Your 'sample size', as regards the sample of stimuli, is only 20. And that sample size is just as important as the other one.

It might be that there's no real hair difference in perceived trustworthiness, but there are individual differences - some men just look dodgy and it's nothing to do with hair - and in your stimuli, you've happened to pick some dodgy looking blonde guys. Or whatever.

Now you can run your statistical analyses taking these possible stimulus variation effects into account. But according to Judd, Westfall and Kenny, authors of this paper, this is rarely done. They show with both real and hypothetical data, that unless you take care of this, you can find "statistically significant" differences from pure random noise. This is not a new argument, but they say it's been ignored for too long.

The worst part is that increasing the number of volunteers actually makes it more likely that you'll fall foul of this, not less. Only increasing the stimulus sample size can prevent it.

The paper goes into lots of detail, and tackles various hot potatoes, including one of Daryl Bem's notorious precognition "retroactive priming" experiments. Bem claimed that college students were able to predict the future - they responded differently to different pictures... before the pictures appeared on the screen. The effect was statistically significant and he published it. But Judd et al say that accounting for stimulus variation removes the effect.

ResearchBlogging.orgJudd CM, Westfall J, and Kenny DA (2012). Treating Stimuli as a Random Factor in Social Psychology: A New and Comprehensive Solution to a Pervasive but Largely Ignored Problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology PMID: 22612667

Monday, June 18, 2012

The PR Crisis of Democracy

What will "democracy" mean, for the next generation?

At the moment, Western democracy has a pretty good image. It’s associated with things like: freedom, prosperity, wealth, justice, progress. I'm not saying that democracy actually causes those things; I'm not saying it doesn't. What I mean is that when most people think of democracy, those are what springs to mind, I think. Democracy today has a pretty good image.

Many people assume that democracy will always be attractive, although only a few have been bold enough to say it. But this wasn't always true, and maybe it won't be. 10 years from now, what will people think of when they hear the word “democracy”?

That all depends what happens. Suppose things get worse in:
Egypt, Libya: Democracy (at least in theory)… violence, extremists, civil war.

Europe: Democracy… riots, poverty, panic.

America: Democracy… deadlock, paralysis, decline.

I'm not saying democracy really caused those problems or would be responsible if they get worse. Correlation isn't really causation, but psychologically, it feels like it is (that's why we need reminding so often that it isn't.) I'm just summarizing the news headlines from the past couple of years and assuming they continue.

I'm not saying those headlines are justified, either; the media exaggerate, but this is all about perception, and like it or not, people see headlines. And of course there are other old and new democracies around the world that are doing fine - but good news doesn't make the front page.

Put it all together and it doesn’t look so attractive.

This matters. The USSR ended because the people of the USSR looked West and saw a better life. Now there's an assumption that something similar is bound to happen eventually in those countries that are 'still' not democratic. We assume that they will look at democracy and think: me too! For that matter, we assume that most people in a democracy would not vote to end democracy.

But what if democracy loses face?

This hasn't happened yet. It has only just begun, and hopefully can be prevented. Europe today, even Greece today, is surely more attractive than the USSR 1989... but things could get worse, and then where will democracy be?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Brains are Different on Macs

Update - A number of articles linking to this post are wrongly stating that FreeSurfer is medical software used to diagnose diseases or measure the size of brain tumors. It's not. It is purely for research purposes as the software license states, "The Software has been designed for research purposes only and has not been reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration or by any other agency. CLINICAL APPLICATIONS ARE NEITHER RECOMMENDED NOR ADVISED."

Last month, neuroscientists were warned about potential biases in SPM8, a popular software tool for analysis of fMRI data.

Now a paper highlights another software pitfall: The Effects of FreeSurfer Version, Workstation Type, and Macintosh Operating System Version on Anatomical Volume and Cortical Thickness Measurements

FreeSurfer is one of the major image analysis packages and amongst other things, you can use it to measure the size of different parts of the brain.

German Dutch researchers Ed Gronenschild and colleagues took a set of 30 brains and got FreeSurfer to estimate the size and thickness of various structures. Then they did the same thing, on the exact same brains, with a different version of the software.

They found substantial differences in regional volumes, depending upon the version of FreeSurfer used. Running the same version of the software on a Mac vs a PC also created differences, and even the version of Mac OS had an impact.

How much of a difference it made varied by brain location. The differences were 5-15% with version changes. For Mac vs PC and Mac OS updates it was less bad, 2-5% mostly, but in the worst regions - the parahippocampal and entorhinal cortex - it was still almost 15% different. Why those regions are so variable is unclear.

The paper goes into lots more detail, but the lesson for researchers is extremely simple: don't cross the streams of data-analysis. Set up your analysis stream and then use it on all of your data. Same hardware, same software, same settings.

Imagine you're doing a study comparing brain structure in two groups. Halfway through analyzing your data, you upgrade your MacOS. All of the brains you analyze after that will be, say, 5% "bigger". That'll certainly make your data much noisier, and if you happen to analyze most of Group A before Group B, it'll give you a false positive finding.

Sometimes you just can't avoid changes in hardware or software - IT techs have a habit of upgrading things without asking - but in these cases, you should run the same data under the old and the new regime to see if it's making a difference.

Finally, it would be wrong to blame FreeSurfer for this. I'd be surprised if they were any worse than the other software packages. Mixing and matching versions is something that the FreeSurfer developers specifically warn against. This paper shows why.

ResearchBlogging.orgGronenschild EH, Habets P, Jacobs HI, Mengelers R, Rozendaal N, van Os J, and Marcelis M (2012). The Effects of FreeSurfer Version, Workstation Type, and Macintosh Operating System Version on Anatomical Volume and Cortical Thickness Measurements. PloS one, 7 (6) PMID: 22675527

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kids Today Are Not Inattentive

There's no evidence that children today are less attentive or more distractible than kids in the past, according to research just published by a team of Pennsylvania psychologists: Long-Term Temporal Stability of Measured Inattention and Impulsivity in Typical and Referred Children.

The study gave a large sample of kids the "Gordon Diagnostic System" GDS test of sustained concentration ability. This dates to the 80s and it consists of a box, with a button, and a display with three digits. There are three different tasks but the main one is a sustained attention test. The goal is to watch a series of numbers and quickly press the button whenever a "1" is followed by a "9". Easy... but it takes concentration to do well.

Over the period of 2000-2006, the researchers gave the GDS to 445 healthy American kids, not diagnosed with any learning or behavioural disorder and not taking medication. They compared their scores to the standardized norms - which were based on a sample of American kids back in 1983.

The results showed that today's kids scored pretty much the same, on average, as the 1983 kids. The average age-standardized scores were extremely close to the 1983 means, across the board. Children diagnosed with ADHD, as expected, scored much worse. Oddly, kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder did just as badly as the ADHD ones.

One of the researchers on this study is none other than Michael Gordon, who invented the GDS and, one assumes, makes money selling it. (Each GDS kit costs $1595, so someone is making a killing here.) So perhaps we should take this paper with a pinch of salt, because it's kind of an advertisement for the reliability of the GDS.

Still, these results seem pretty solid. That's good news for American children... but bad news for people like Professor Susan Greenfield, who thinks that the internet and videogames are causing an epidemic of ADHD, and all kinds of other problems.

These data suggest rather that, while ADHD diagnoses are certainly rising, children as a whole are not getting less attentive, suggesting that the rise of ADHD is more of a cultural shift.

ResearchBlogging.orgMayes, S., Gordon, M., Calhoun, S., and Bixler, E. (2012). Long-Term Temporal Stability of Measured Inattention and Impulsivity in Typical and Referred Children Journal of Attention Disorders DOI: 10.1177/1087054712448961

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Natural Way to Keep Your Health

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Big Pharma Read Neuroskeptic?

A few weeks back I blogged about an error-ridden paper from pharmaceutical company Janssen. It  reported on the failure of a candidate antidepressant, JNJ-18038683. But it was rubbish: the Abstract contradicted the results of the study, wrongly claiming that the drug did statistically significantly better than placebo in a particular analysis, when it didn't. And they repeatedly mixed up the names of two other antidepressants.

I posted on May 17th. On May 23rd, a new version of the offending article quietly appeared on the journal's website: here it is. But the old version is still up, although I'm not sure it's intended to be, because the link is gone, so I think the only way to find it is from this blog.

Interestingly, the new manuscript corrects those two issues I noted. As far as I can see those are the only changes. Coincidence?

The original paper was a "Fast Forward" online accelerated publication manuscript, and it's common for these to be corrected in minor ways when they're officially published (i.e. when they appear in print), but that's not what happened here, because the new version is still a Fast Forward. This kind of revision is unusual.

So it seems that someone at Janssen is reading this blog!

If so: Hey. Believe it or not, I'm on your side, I want you to succeed. I suffer from depression, and I've love it if you came up with an actually good new antidepressant. But your industry hasn't released one in at least 10 years (be honest), and you're not fooling anyone with clever statistical tricks.

Forget that, and invest in some proper science. For example, ketamine is clearly the most exciting potential antidepressant right now, and glutamate could be the next serotonin. But because no-one has tested it against an active placebo, no-one, including you, knows whether it's really working. Run a really serious trial of ketamine, if it does work, then that's your next generation of antidepressants right there. If not, better to know that now than later when you've sunk billions into the idea.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teaching Neuroanatomy With A Showercap

Learning the names and locations of the different parts of the brain is a task that has brought grief to generations of students.

I myself didn't know my caudate from my cingulate cortex all through my undergraduate studies and the first year of my doctorate. I only cracked it after spending a couple of days in the library, surrounded by a stack of anatomy textbooks, copying diagrams and coloring them in over and over until I could do it from memory.

Now a group of Australian physiologists say there's a better way - Showercap Mindmap: a spatial activity for learning physiology terminology and location

Basically, undergraduate students were split into groups of 3 or 4 and each team was given a pack:
The Showercap Mindmap packs included a clear, unmarked plastic shower cap, a whiteboard marker, and 15 sticky, color-coded labels.
Lobe labels were blue (occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal).
Specialist areas were green (the corpus callosum, Broca’s area, and Wernicke’s area).
Labels relating to information processing were yellow (hearing; heat; pain and temperature; and interpretation and integration of information).
Cortex labels were orange (motor, association, somatosensory, auditory, and visual).
One student on each team wore the cap and the others had 10 minutes to attach the labels to the correct parts of their head, corresponding to the different brain areas, with the help of a neuroanatomy textbook.

This strikes me as a fantastic idea, and something that could actually make learning neuroanatomy fun, or at least a bit more involving than it usually is. The authors of the paper say that students using the method learned more effectively than those using a more conventional approach. Even the cap-wearers benefited. They couldn't see the labels being placed, but they could feel them.

ResearchBlogging.orgVanags T, Budimlic M, Herbert E, Montgomery MM, and Vickers T (2012). Showercap Mindmap: a spatial activity for learning physiology terminology and location. Advances in physiology education, 36 (2), 125-30 PMID: 22665427

Thursday, June 7, 2012

That Antidepressants In Water Cause Autism Study

Oh dear. The newspapers this morning are reporting that
Autism 'could be triggered by very low doses of anti-depressants or other chemicals found in water supply'
Here's the study. Young fish were exposed to a combination of three drugs, two antidepressants and an epilepsy med, for 18 days.

First off, this study was tiny with an effective sample size of just 6. Three tanks of fish got exposed to the drugs, and three control tanks didn't. There were multiple fish per tank, five in fact, but those are not five independent observations, because they shared a tank. That's just tiny for a drug trial, or any scientific study really.

Next, the drug doses were much higher than in the water supply. Levels of fluoxetine (Prozac) were 700 times higher than observed in drinking water, for carbamazapine it was 400 times higher. And that's based on the authors' figures for drinking water which they admit are "the highest observed concentrations from various systems". The authors defend this by saying that in drinking water there will be other related compounds, on top of the drugs themselves, adding up to a higher dose. OK - but 400, 700 times higher? We've no idea if that's realistic. They don't justify this number.

What did the drugs actually do to the fish? After 18 days of exposure to the drugs, the fish - juvenile fathead minnows - had their brains removed and the expression levels of various genes measured using a genetic microarray.

The drugged minnows had significantly increased expression of a set of 324 genes dubbed "autism genes" ("autism_ideopathic" in the paper.) I'm not going to get into the question of whether these really are autism genes in humans, or whether fish brains are a good of model of humans. Those are hard issues. But what's easy to see is that while this set of genes were apparantly increased, so were many others. It was not specific to 'autism genes'.

The autism genes were upregulated by an average factor of +1.621... but this was only slightly more than the "Parkinson's Disease genes" at +1.56 and the "Multiple Sclerosis" ones at +1.375. Meanwhile, "Bipolar Disorder" genes were down by -1.172. So if antidepressants in the water are causing autism, they're probably also causing (or preventing!) a lot of other problems too.

The authors note that only three of the gene sets were statistically significantly altered, but that doesn't mean those sets were special, this is the fallacy of treating differences in significance levels as evidence of significant differences.

Of 10 more specific "autism gene" sets that they also examined (in the same fish), all were increased by various amounts (+1.050 to +1.537), some of which were significant - but one of those was a set of genes previously reported decreased in autistics, not increased (it was the "synapse" genes from this study).

What these changes in gene expression mean is anyone's guess. Given the small sample size they could be just noise. If not, all they really show is that levels of psychoactive medications that are quite low, but much higher than in drinking water, have affect the brains of fish. We don't know what that effect means, for the fish, let alone humans.

Early life antidepressant exposure might cause autism. I don't know. Stranger things have happened. We know that fetal anticonvulsant exposure can do it but that's when mothers are actually taking the pills. It's one giant leap from that to traces in drinking water. It's the difference between falling off your chair and falling off the Empire State Building.

ResearchBlogging.orgMichael A. Thomas, and Rebecca D. Klaper (2012). Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce Fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism PLoS ONE

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bipolar Disorder - A BRIDGE to nowhere?

Last August I blogged about a research paper that claimed that almost half of all people suffering from depression actually have features of bipolar disorder - including me: So Apparantly I'm Bipolar

It was called the BRIDGE study. I took issue with it for various reasons, including the fact that it counted as 'bipolar features' any periods of irritable or elevated mood, even if they were associated with drug treatment:
Under the new regime if you've ever been irritable, high, agitated or hyperactive, on antidepressants or not, you meet "Bipolar Specifier" criteria, so long as it was marked enough that someone else noticed it...
A cynic would say that this is a breathtaking piece of psychiatric marketing. You give people antidepressants, then you diagnose them with bipolar on the basis of their reaction to those drugs, thus justifying selling them yet more drugs.
The cynic would not be surprised to learn that this study was sponsored by pharmaceutical company Sanofi
Now a crack team of psychiatrists have written a Letter to the Editor criticizing BRIDGE and they say... pretty much what I said: BRIDGE Study Warrants Critique. They do make a couple of new points also.

The 8 authors of the Letter include David Allen, David Healy, Peter Parry and Jon Jureidini, all major critical voices in psychiatry. However... while this A-Team make an excellent case that BRIDGE is a step in the direction of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of bipolar, they drop the ball slightly when they say:
The article concluded with an appeal to use “mood stabilizers,” presumably atypical antipsychotics, which are less efficacious than lithium. The sponsor has a medication in this class.
Sanofi does make the atypical antipsychotic amisulpiride, but it's not generally referred to as a "mood stabilizer", and I'm not sure why you'd assume that Sanofi had amisulpiride specifically in mind. The BRIDGE team exploit this in their rebuttal letter:
Allen et al cast unseemly aspersions that the BRIDGE study was a vehicle to promote sales of an antipsychotic drug sold by sanofi-aventis. sanofi-aventis has no antipsychotic with an indication for bipolar disorder. We know of no evidence that this was the case at any stage of development and execution of the BRIDGE study.
Maybe so, but as I said in my post, Sanofi also make some popular brands of valproate/valproic acid, a prototypical "mood stabilizer" which is widely used in bipolar disorder. I'd have said that was the more likely candidate...

Fundamentally, we know that Sanofi "was involved in the study design, conduct, monitoring, data analysis, and preparation of the report." We also know that Sanofi is exists to make profit by selling drugs. So either Sanofi thought that this study would make them a profit eventually, by selling more drugs... or they threw money and time at this for no commercial reason. Hmm.

The reply concludes with the frankly bizarre statement that:
Allen et al view their position as part of a “debate” about the “ever-widening bipolar spectrum.” We consider data, not debates, as central to the progress in the scientific understanding of mood disorders...
But science is a debate about data. Data by themselves are just numbers; to be useful, they must be interpreted, and scientific debates aim at arriving at such interpretations. No-one is questioning the BRIDGE data as such, we're questioning what it means.

ResearchBlogging.orgDavid M. Allen, et al (2012). BRIDGE Study Warrants Critique Archives of General Psychiatry, 69 (6) DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.118

Monday, June 4, 2012

Identical Twins, Different Lives

Virginia psychiatrists Kendler and Halberstadt describe a neat "natural experiment" into what causes depression - The road not taken: life experiences in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for major depression

They interviewed 14 pairs of identical twins. One of each pair had reported a history of depression while the other hadn't. The twins were interviewed together, and asked to describe their lives, in particular any differences between their experiences.

It's well worth reading, for the human interest stories if nothing else. Here's perhaps the most striking one:
Lisa (never depressed) and Leslie (depressed), interviewed at age 53, were identical twins... they were together constantly as children, but described their personalities as somewhat different from the start... Lisa described herself as getting quickly upset over adversity, but then rapidly changing gears and focusing on problem-solving. Leslie indicated that she had more of a temper and was more assertive, more likely to ‘mouth off’ and get into trouble than her twin.

Lisa knew she wanted to be a school teacher, attended a teacher’s college and has taught for her entire career. Leslie was less certain of her career goals and held a number of different jobs... Lisa, at 24, met her husband of nearly 30 years and had a big, traditional wedding. Leslie married the guy she dated in high school and college, invited only their parents to the wedding and divorced after 5 years, commenting "I picked the wrong man."

Late in the interview, Leslie reported (only after being asked about the most difficult time in her life) that just over 30 years ago, after drinking a modest amount of alcohol, she became pathologically intoxicated and drove onto a major highway off ramp going the wrong way. She got into the highway going against traffic and had a head-on collision, which killed the other driver - a woman with young children. Leslie was not seriously injured.

Recounting this event was clearly difficult for her as she openly wept in telling us this story even after all these years. In recounting her psychological reaction to the accident, she said, "Am I really to blame for this, and then I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my life? knowing there was somebody else whose family had been destroyed there." The depression following this episode was her most severe and she talked about her deep sense of guilt. Although manslaughter charges against her were dropped, there was evidence that Leslie was at fault.
The other stories were less extreme, but no less dramatic in their own ways. The authors conclude that, of the 14 pairs, the depressed twin got depressed because of: romantic difficulties (7); single traumatic events (2, including Lisa & Leslie); employment difficulties (1), a mixture of factors (2), and for no clear reason at all (2).

However, what we can really conclude from all this? The study specifically took identical twins, who grew up together but only one of whom reported depression, so it ruled out genetic influences and also psychological and social factors shared by both twins - things like family background, growing up in poverty, etc. That's the whole point of the study but it's important to remember that these are unusual cases.

Beyond that, it's hard to know if the differences in the twins' lives caused the depression. All we know is that they're correlated. "Leslie" for instance became seriously depressed after causing the death of a woman in a drunk driving accident. A straightforward case of cause and effect, perhaps, but then why did she drink and drive in the first place? Was depression, or something associated with it, part of the reason?

Ideally, I would want to repeat this study in identical twins both (or neither) of whom had depression to see if their lives - before the depression at any rate - were more alike than these discordant twins. However, it's still a fascinating study.

ResearchBlogging.orgKendler, K., and Halberstadt, L. (2012). The road not taken: life experiences in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for major depression Molecular Psychiatry DOI: 10.1038/mp.2012.55

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Conference! The Game

It's conference season! That special time of year when scientists jet off to foreign shores, posters in hand, leaving the confines of the lab behind to spend three exciting days talking about... the lab.

Sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to get to go every year. So if you're feeling left out, Neuroskeptic has the answer: Conference!, a revolutionary new simulation that offers you all the best bits of a major academic summit, all from the comfort of the lab bench.

HOW TO PLAY: Print out the board. Each player has a token. Everyone starts at the Airport. Players take it in turns to roll a single six sided die, and move their token forward that many spaces (marked by circles). The player with the highest h index goes first. Follow the red arrows. If you land on a special square space, something special happens - see the text. First player to land on, or pass over, the Airport for the return journey wins.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Seeing Things in Pictures

A team of Japanese neurologists propose a new method to detect visual hallucinations - the Pareidolia Test.

Pareidolia means perceiving things that aren't there, in random or unrelated stimuli. Uchiyama et al created a set of 25 photos, each of which contains things that kind of look like faces, animals, or other objects... but not really. As you can see, the flowers and the birds look like faces. I can't work out what the leopard and the trees are meant to be, though...

The authors showed the pictures to some patients with dementia. They had one minute to describe what they saw in each image. Compared to healthy controls, patients with Alzheimer's disease did not experience any more pareidolia than controls.

But people with Lewy Body dementia - a disorder in which visual hallucinations and misclassifications are more common than in Alzheimer's - reported seeing numerous faces, people and creatures that weren't there.

They didn't just say that the images "looked like" these things: they actually thought they were pictures of the illusionary objects. This is an interesting test which might help doctors to diagnose visual hallucinations, which are often under-reported by patients. Some degree of pareidolia, especially for faces, is entirely normal, however, as the popularity of Jesus's in snacks shows. When specifically told to expect it, people can even "see" faces in random black and white patterns.

ResearchBlogging.orgUchiyama, M., Nishio, Y., Yokoi, K., Hirayama, K., Imamura, T., Shimomura, T., & Mori, E. (2012). Pareidolias: complex visual illusions in dementia with Lewy bodies Brain DOI: 10.1093/brain/aws126