21 December 2011

Arthritis National Research Foundation

Arthritis sucks. Rheumatoid Arthritis is especially sucky.

Here's a gentle description of what happened to my grandmother from the Arthritis National Research Foundation.
She once swam competitively, but no longer could. She had difficulty doing the shopping for her family. Everyday pleasures were dulled by pain. The simplest movements required tremendous effort and concentration.

Joyce Sontag was a victim of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a debilitating, progressive autoimmune disease. She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 35 and lived 37 long years fighting the disease's progress in her body and in her life. Sadly, her family watched this decline without being given much hope for relief or remission, other than the treatment of symptoms.

Mrs. Sontag was hospitalized at the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center when she died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis in 1993. The treatments she received for RA from the late 1950s to the 1990s often had more negative side effects than positive effects for pain relief. The disease spread beyond the joints to other organs. Gradually, Mrs. Sontag became more and more debilitated, suffering acute weight loss and spinal column degeneration.

The Sontag Foundation

So, this is me urging you to donate to the ARNF or other organization supporting scientific research into the causes and treatment of arthritis.

Donate to the ARNF

(If you're wealthy, I will love you forever if your donation puts my Uncle in his place.)

29 July 2011

What cancer survival really means

I was really taken aback by this explanation of what cancer survival really means. I know that some of you are fighting cancer* or have someone in your lives who is. This may be useful.

xkcd: Lanes

(Click to make bigger)

comic explaining what cancer survival stats really mean.

Check out the rollover --the text which displays when your mouse hovers over the picture-- on the original post for how the picture reflects the stages of breast cancer.

*Reflecting on this, I think I see a bit better why some say that 'fighting cancer' is the wrong language/metaphor. Though I'm not sure what to use instead. Help me out.

19 July 2011

Foolproof method for succeeding in modern neurochemistry

Neurochemistry Post-Docs! Looking to publish interesting and important papers on the neurochemistry of reward but don't know what to study? Then Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method is for you!

For centuries, western philosophers have thought carefully about the nature and kinds of pleasure.* You too can benefit from their efforts!

Here's the key to Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method: These philosophers have been studying mental phenomena. You study neural phenomena. And mental phenomena are ultimately neural phenomena!

Other inferior neuropsychological research programs have tried using philosophical claims to select topics. But they would have you try to prove or disprove philosophical claims with neuroscience. That may win you friends amongst philosophers. But you don't want philosopher friends!** You want prestigious publications and lucrative grants!

That's where Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method can help! You needn't worry about proving or disproving philosophical claims. With Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method, you will use writers ranging from the ancient Greeks to the modern utilitarians to help you design experimental paradigms that are the key to scientific fame.

Here's just one taste of what the system has to offer. Philosophers have, in various guises, debated whether some pleasures are better than others by virtue of being more refined and intellectually infused.

Now a lesser program might have you consider whether opera or pop music produces greater activity in dopaminergic pathways in subjects with past exposure to both. But that will impress only philosophers.

With Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method you will instead find in these disputes some promising leads for experimentation. You may, for example, design your experiments to investigate connections between the reward pathway activity, memories, and higher order processes. You don't care whether the refined music elicits more apparent reward. You care about whether pop music and opera elicit systematically different connections throughout the brain.***

Now, it is true that Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method can't promise experimental results that will woo philosophers.**** But Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method can help you select topics which will uncover processes which underlie our complex mental lives. And that's what you want.

And lucrative grants!

Act now and Dr. Swenson's Revolutionary Topic Selection Method can be yours for a pathetically small amount of money. First 10 callers get a free T-shirt and Shamwow.

*Yes, this comes dangerously close to 'since the dawn of time'. I cringe too.

**I'm serious.

***I know, music isn't the best example. But it's easy to set out. Thanks a lotOliver Sacks.

****Philosophers will nonetheless distort your results and woo themselves.


This post was inspired by

Heterogenerity of Reward Mechanisms

SpringerLink - Neurochemical Research, Volume 35, Number 6: "The finding that many drugs that have abuse potential and other natural stimuli such as food or sexual activity cause similar chemical changes in the brain, an increase in extracellular dopamine (DA) in the shell of the nucleus accumbens (NAccS), indicated some time ago that the reward mechanism is at least very similar for all stimuli and that the mechanism is relatively simple. The presently available information shows that the mechanisms involved are more complex and have multiple elements. Multiple brain regions, multiple receptors, multiple distinct neurons, multiple transmitters, multiple transporters, circuits, peptides, proteins, metabolism of transmitters, and phosphorylation, all participate in reward mechanisms. The system is variable, is changed during development, is sex-dependent, and is influenced by genetic differences. Not all of the elements participate in the reward of all stimuli. Different set of mechanisms are involved in the reward of different drugs of abuse, yet different mechanisms in the reward of natural stimuli such as food or sexual activity; thus there are different systems that distinguish different stimuli. Separate functions of the reward system such as anticipation, evaluation, consummation and identification; all contain function-specific elements. The level of the stimulus also influences the participation of the elements of the reward system, there are possible reactions to even below threshold stimuli, and excessive stimuli can change reward to aversion involving parts of the system. Learning and memory of past reward is an important integral element of reward and addictive behavior. Many of the reward elements are altered by repeated or chronic stimuli, and chronic exposure to one drug is likely to alter the response to another stimulus. To evaluate and identify the reward stimulus thus requires heterogeneity of the reward components in the brain. "

(Via http://mindhacks.com/.)

LSD analogue and cluster headaches

Whoa. Check out this abstract an annual International Headache Congress paper.

Cluster headache attack cessation and remission extension of months or longer in six treatment-refractory patients administered only 3 doses of BOL-148

J. Halpern, M. Karst, T. Passie

Five male patients with treatment-refractory chronic cluster headache and one female patient with treatment-refractory mixed cluster/migrainous headache were administered 2-bromo-LSD (BOL-148) (20mcg/kg) at five-day intervals for a total of three treatments. Sixteen-week outcome data on the five male patients revealed a robust treatment response, with three of the five having no attacks for more than one month, thereby shifting their diagnosis back to the episodic form of cluster headache. Similarly, the female patient reported quiescence of cluster attacks for greater than one month and 'significant' improvement in migraine in the following weeks from last dose of BOL-148. This poster presents longterm outcome data on all 6 patients who received BOL-148. In follow-up with these patients, BOL-148 provided significant headache relief that lasted for several months to more than one-year. Data suggests that BOL-148 may function as an important new treatment, though, at present, there is no explanation for such long-term prophylactic effects with no later drug re-administrations. There is some evidence that BOL-148 is affecting epigenetic mechanisms and may open the possibility for a near-cure-like treatment for patients afflicted with vascular headaches."

In English: in small study, a chemical cousin of LSD pretty much cured cluster headaches in some patients. It may have done this through changes at the genetic level.
All the usual caveats apply --small study, limited time frame, et cetera. Still, whoa.

Here's a better summary.


And, though there's no reason whatsoever to think there's any relationship with the long-term gene-level effects in this study, I've been looking for an excuse to post this: John's Hopkins Study Probes "Sacred Mushroom" Chemical. Amongs the results
Looking back over a year later, most of the experiment’s 18 volunteers (94 percent) rated a psilocybin session as among the top five most or as the topmost spiritually significant experience of his or her life....Most volunteers (89 percent) also reported positive changes in their behaviors, and those reports were corroborated by family members or others, the researchers say. The behavior changes most frequently cited were improved relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased devotion to spiritual practice.

12 April 2011

More on pain rating scales, xkcd weighs in

Following up on Hyperbole and a Half's critique of the Wong-Baker Scale, xkcd weighs in on anchors of common assessment scales.

Comic on worst pain imaginable

His mouseover caption presses the point: "If it were a two or above, I couldn't answer because it would mean a pause in the screaming."

This reminds me of a conversation with a friend about the pragmatics of rating the pain which brought you to the doctor's office. Our consensus: Rating the pain a 6 is high enough that the doctor will take you seriously, but not so high that they think you're lying or make the wrong diagnosis.

22 February 2011

The Strange Powers of the Placebo Effect

Some of the interesting features of the placebo effect:

Darvocet decision a prelude a warm up for banning methadone?

Christian Sinclair over at Pallimed does some sleuthing into the FDA's rationale for pulling propoxyphene and comes away concerned:

He notes that
* Propoxyphene is a synthetic derivative of methadone.

* Methadone causes QT prolongation of questionable clinical significance in palliative care patients.

* QT prolongation is a risk factor for ventricular arrhythmias.

Combined with some FDA memo analysis (go read the post) he concludes

Well all this may be a whole lot of nothing but my real concern is that methadone may be a drug in the crosshairs of the FDA soon. It already has four strikes against it:

1) documented QT prolongation

2) stigma of heroin treatment programs

3) accelerating percent of all deaths related to opioids

4) methadone could be considered an orphan drug

This would be bad news indeed.

(Via: Pallimed: A Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog: Are You Glad Darvocet Got Pulled by the FDA? Are You Sure?)

10 February 2011

Images from the History of Medicine (NLM)

Just discovered the National Library of Medicine's archive of images. Pretty neat (in a depressing sort of way).
Here's the main site:

and here's a link to search results for pain:

Images from the History of Medicine (NLM) - Search Results: All Fields SimilarTo 'Pain'

14 January 2011

Open placebos

By now I'm sure you've all heard the exciting news: Placebos work even if the patients know that they are taking placebos!
At least in a controlled study. Where their doctors give them lots of attention. Where they, as participants in a study, may be hoping that the 'treatment' works. When they've been told that science says placebos can work. Et cetera....

No need for me to recapitulate the debates. Instead, links!
The original paper, Placebos Without Deception

Steve Silberman, author of the awesome Wired magazine article on placebos, has a nice rundown here.

I suppose you can guess Respectful Insolence's Orac's take from his introduction of the topic
The investigators, led by Dr. Ted J. Kaptchuk of Harvard's Osher Research Center. The Osher Center, for those of you not familiar with it, is Harvard's center of quackademic medicine; only this time they seem to be trying to do some real research into placebo effects.

Skepticism aplenty there.

Ed Young likes the study a bit better.