Depression is one of the most common and most debilitating mental health disorders, affecting some 17 million adults in the US. It also continues to be a misunderstood, often hard-to-treat illness. Researchers have worked for decades to better understand the neurobiology underpinning depression.
For patients with severe, treatment-resistant depression, spending months or even years searching for good treatments can be totally disabling. The prevailing hypothesis for years was that depression was regulated by the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and norepinephrine.
Eventually, data began to suggest that maybe something much larger and more global was involved in the brain to account for depression, which led researchers to begin working with glutamate and GABA, the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals are involved in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to adapt to change and protect itself against stressful events.
Neuroplasticity is a physical thing, too: it manifests itself “in terms of synapses, how these neurons are actually touching each other and communicating with each other,” explains Gerard Sanacora, PhD, MD, Director of the Yale Depression Research Program. “And we know that in depression, the number and strength of these interconnections decreases,” says Rachel Katz, MD, a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Yale.
Ketamine – originally developed and still used as an anesthetic – works on those two neurotransmitters and was discovered to have rapid antidepressant effects. Some experience an improvement in symptoms in 24 hours or less. “We think that one of the things that Ketamine does, that helps to explain its antidepressant effects, is help the brain to regrow the synapses, the connections between nerve cells,” says John Krystal, MD, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale.
A new approach developed by Harvard Medical School researchers uses yeast to rapidly evolve synthetic antibody fragments called nanobodies with the aim to find variants that are effective at binding to selected antigens, including SARS-CoV-2. The antibodies are intended for use in diagnostic tests and disease treatments. Read the full story: https://hms.harvard.edu/news/antibody…
Professor Ashani Weeraratna has been studying the cancer microenvironment in her lab for the past 17 years. Taking into account that the tissues in our bodies change as we age is important when researching cancer biology. She hopes that gaining a better understanding of how the growth of cancer cells is affected by their direct cellular ‘neighbourhood’, especially when we age, could be key to developing better treatments for patients with cancer. Read more in https://www.nature.com/immersive/d428…
Scientists have used a technique to grow bile duct organoids – often referred to as ‘mini-organs’ – in the lab and shown that these can be used to repair damaged human livers. This is the first time that the technique has been used on human organs. Funding provided by European Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Academy of Medical Sciences
Vaccine science and technology is advancing. Next generation vaccines could change how we combat infectious diseases, and it’s important to understand how the technology works.
Stroke is far more common than you might realize, affecting more than 795,000 people in the U.S. every year. It is a leading cause of death and long-term disability. Yet until now, treatment options have been limited, despite the prevalence and severity of stroke.
Not so long ago, doctors didn’t have much more to offer stroke victims than empathy, says Kevin Sheth, MD, Division Chief of Neurocritical Care and Emergency Neurology. “There wasn’t much you could do.” But that is changing. Recent breakthroughs offer new hope to patients and families. Beating the Clock Think of stroke as a plumbing problem in the brain. It occurs when there is a disruption of blood flow, either because of a vessel blockage (ischemic stroke) or rupture (hemorrhagic stroke).
In both cases, the interruption of blood flow starves brain cells of oxygen, causing them to become damaged and die. Delivering medical interventions early after a stroke can mean the difference between a full recovery and significant disability or death. Time matters. Unfortunately, stroke care often bottlenecks in the first stage: diagnosis. Sometimes, it’s a logistical issue; to identify the type, size, and location of a stroke requires MRI imaging, and the machinery itself can be difficult to access.
MRIs use powerful magnets to create detailed images of the body, which means they must be kept in bunker-type rooms, typically located in hospital basements. As a result, there is often a delay in getting MRI scans for stroke patients. Dr. Sheth collaborated with a group of doctors and engineers to develop a portable MRI machine. Though it captures the images doctors need to properly diagnose stroke, it uses a less powerful magnet. It is lightweight and can be easily wheeled to a patient’s bedside.
“It’s a paradigm shift – from taking a sick patient to the MRI to taking an MRI to a sick patient,” says Dr. Sheth. Stopping the Damage Once a stroke has been diagnosed, the work of mitigating the damage can begin. “Brain tissue is very vulnerable during the first hours after stroke,” says vascular neurologist Nils Petersen, MD. He and his team are using advanced neuro-monitoring technology to study how to manage a patient’s blood pressure in the very acute phase after a stroke.
Dr. Petersen’s research shows that optimal stroke treatment depends on personalization of blood pressure parameters. But calculating the ideal blood pressure for the minutes and hours after a patient has a stroke can be complicated. It depends on a variety of factors—it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Harnessing the Immune System Launching an inflammatory reaction is how the body responds to injury anywhere in the body – including the brain, following stroke. However, in this case, the resulting inflammation can sometimes cause even more damage.
But what if that immune response could be used to the patient’s advantage? “We’re trying to understand how we can harness the immune system’s knowledge about how to repair tissues after they’ve been injured,” says Lauren Sansing, MD, Academic Chief of the Division of Stroke and Vascular Neurology. Her team is working to understand the biological signals guiding the immune response to stroke.
That knowledge can then direct the development of targeted therapeutics for the treatment of stroke that minimize early injury and enhance recovery. “We want to be able to lead research efforts that change the lives of patients around the world,” says Dr. Sansing.
Learn about these developments and more in the video above.
Work to distribute Pfize and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is gearing up but it won’t hit local pharmacies for the general public any time soon.
SCIENTISTS ARE working at an unprecedented pace to find a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. The stakes are high. Natasha Loder, The Economist’s health policy editor, explains how an effective vaccine might be developed.
Dr Trevor Drew of the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness speaks to host Kenneth Cukier about two trials which have reached the animal-testing stage. Plus, once a vaccine is discovered, what can be done to make sure it is distributed fairly? Dr Seth Berkely, chief executive of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, explains the importance of global cooperation. Runtime: 26 min
Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. But experts have said it could take a year to 18 months for one to hit the market. The process for testing and approving a vaccine is long and complicated.
That can be frustrating when the coronavirus is taking more and more lives every day. But cutting corners to push a vaccine through faster can lead to devastating consequences. We know that, because it’s happened before.