Posts tagged: medicine
Vaughan Bell on the shift from psychiatric drugs that act on one specific neurotransmitter in favor of a “circuit” driven model of treating mental and neurological disorders:
In its place is a science focused on understanding the brain as a series of networks, each of which supports a different aspect of our experience and behaviour. By this analysis, the brain is a bit like a city: you can’t make sense of the bigger picture without knowing how everything interacts. Relatively few residents of Belfast who live in the Shankill spend their money in the Falls Road and this tells us much more about the city – as these are the key loyalist and republican areas – than knowing that the average income of each area is much the same. Similarly, knowing that key brain areas interact differently when someone gets depressed tells us something important that a measure of average brain activity would miss. […]
Perhaps more surprising for some is the explosion in deep brain stimulation procedures, where electrodes are implanted in the brains of patients to alter electronically the activity in specific neural circuits. Medtronic, just one of the manufacturers of these devices, claims that its stimulators have been used in more than 100,000 patients. Most of these involve well-tested and validated treatments for Parkinson’s disease, but increasingly they are being trialled for a wider range of problems. Recent studies have examined direct brain stimulation for treating pain, epilepsy, eating disorders, addiction, controlling aggression, enhancing memory and for intervening in a range of other behavioural problems.
A recent paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics warns of the dangers of DIY transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The National Post reports:
Those risks include reversing the polarity of the electrodes to cause impairment instead of benefit, and triggering potentially long-lasting and negative changes to the brain’s biology, the researchers argue in the Journal of Medical Ethics. […]
In fact, Health Canada considers tDCS machines to be class-three devices — on a scale of risk ranging from one to four — and has yet to approve any for treating psychological illness – though they are licensed for pain and insomnia therapy, said Leslie Meerburg, a department spokeswoman. […]
One subtle but troubling risk could lie in the ability of the devices to change behaviour, with research by Prof. Fecteau and colleagues suggesting tDCS can actually make people better liars, or less empathetic, both qualities that could encourage unscrupulous conduct.
Amusingly, after citing a researcher who says tDCS could make people better liars and less empathetic, the Post quotes someone selling a home tDCS rig saying that it is “very safe.” But, despite the somewhat sordid tone of the story, the actual paper Medical Ethics paper does say that tDCS is “relatively safe.” You can find the full paper here.
I’ve linked to research before casting doubt on the efficacy of “brain training” games and software (other than double n-back). But some new research reported by the MIT Technology Review is more promising:
Cancer survivors sometimes suffer from a condition known as “chemo fog”—a cognitive impairment caused by repeated chemotherapy. A study hints at a controversial idea: that brain-training software might help lift this cognitive cloud.
Various studies have concluded that cognitive training can improve brain function in both healthy people and those with medical conditions, but the broader applicability of these results remains controversial in the field.
In a study published in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer, investigators report that those who used a brain-training program for 12 weeks were more cognitively flexible, more verbally fluent, and faster-thinking than survivors who did not train. […]
“This is a well-done study—they had not just one transfer test but several,” says Hambrick, who notes that many studies of cognitive training depend on a single test to measure results. “But an issue is the lack of activity within the control group.” Better would be to have the control group do another demanding cognitive task in lieu of Lumosity training—something analogous to a placebo, he says: “The issue is that maybe the improvement in the group that did the cognitive training doesn’t reflect enhancement of basic cognitive processes per se, but could be a motivational phenomenon.”
See also: Dual N-Back FAQ
The New York Times owns up to contributing to the crack baby scare:
This week’s Retro Report video on “crack babies” (infants born to addicted mothers) lays out how limited scientific studies in the 1980s led to predictions that a generation of children would be damaged for life. Those predictions turned out to be wrong. This supposed epidemic — one television reporter talks of a 500 percent increase in damaged babies — was kicked off by a study of just 23 infants that the lead researcher now says was blown out of proportion. And the shocking symptoms — like tremors and low birth weight — are not particular to cocaine-exposed babies, pediatric researchers say; they can be seen in many premature newborns.
The worrisome extrapolations made by researchers — including the one who first published disturbing findings about prenatal cocaine use — were only part of the problem. Major newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Washington Post and The New York Times, ran articles and columns that went beyond the research. Network TV stars of that era, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, also bear responsibility for broadcasting uncritical reports.
I found this interesting because I normally come down in favor of western medicines and treatments:
In the case of the diabetes epidemic, I really paid attention to the narrative of the disease as dictated by Western biomedicine and, in contrast, indigenous peoples of Western North America. And I learned that they are operating on very different narratives. Western biomedicine says diabetes is caused by Indian genes, poor diet & lifestyle, etc. To many tribal people, this is a very doom and gloom story–if diabetes is caused by bad genes, what can you do about it? It’s disempowering. It also shames and blames Indian identity. Not surprisingly, many medical interventions, like getting diagnosed and treated, are traumatic in their own way. Getting one’s blood drawn and scrutinized for glucose levels, for example, reminds many of having their blood scrutinized for tribal enrollment. It can be felt as another face of social control.
Many tribal people, in contrast, understand the diabetes epidemic as an expression of the generational trauma they’ve experienced. Things like European epidemics, Indian boarding schools, nutritional trauma, environmental degradation, and reservation life were really hard hits to Salish life and culture. And these wounds span generations. And this is cited as the cause of the diabetes epidemic in tribal communities. So in this sense, there is definite spiritual and cultural dimension in diabetes etiology with Salish people.
So you have these 2 ways of looking at diabetes: one focuses on genes & diet, the other addressing cultural wounds. So when you build a diabetes program based in a biomedical understanding and try to implement it in a community that sees generational trauma as the primary cause, the program will fail. However, if you create a tribal diabetes program based in their cultural understandings, then you can get somewhere. So that was the big lesson: know the mental models of who you’re working with, and meet the people where they are. Not where you are.
The whole thing is worth a read.
Chris Arkenberg on giving new meaning to “body hacking”:
In what amounts to a fairly shocking reminder of how quickly our technologies are advancing and how deeply our lives are being woven with networked computation, security researchers have recently reported successes in remotely compromising and controlling two different medical implant devices . Such implanted devices are becoming more and more common, implemented with wireless communications both across components and outward to monitors that allow doctors to non-invasively make changes to their settings. Until only recently, this technology was mostly confined to advanced labs but it is now moving steadily into our bodies. As these procedures become more common, researchers are now considering the security implications of wiring human anatomy directly into the web of ubiquitous computation and networked communications.
Barnaby Jack, a researcher at McAfee, was investigating how the wireless protocols between implants and their remote controllers opened up potential vulnerabilities to 3rd party attacks. Working with instrumented insulin pumps he found he could compromise any pump within a 300-foot range. “We can make that pump dispense its entire 300 unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number”, he noted, adding that making the device empty its entire cartridge into a host’s bloodstream would cause “deep trouble”. Previously, independent security researcher Jerome Radcliff, a diabetic and insulin pump recipient himself, showed a crowd at the 2011 Black Hat Security Conference how he could wirelessly hack into his own pump to obtain its profile, then alter it in a way that would modify his prescription when sent back to the device.
Full Story: Big Think: Inviting Machines Into Our Bodies
Last year author Douglas Coupland predicted that within the next 10 years: “We will still be annoyed by people who pun, but we will be able to show them mercy because punning will be revealed to be some sort of connectopathic glitch: The punner, like someone with Tourette’s, has no medical ability not to pun.”
Turns out some researchers already think “bad humor,” including excessive punning, is a disease. MSNBC reports:
Witzelsucht (the Germans just have the best words for everything, don’t they?) is a brain dysfunction that causes all sorts of compulsive silliness: bad jokes, corny puns, wacky behavior. It’s also sometimes called the “joking disease,” and as Taiwanese researchers phrased it in a 2005 report, it’s a “tendency to tell inappropriate and poor jokes.” We’ve covered all sorts of strange disorders of the mind in earlier Body Odd posts: one disorder makes you believe your loved ones are strangers, another convinces you that your hand has taken on a life of its own. Now, we give you a brain disorder that actually causes a poor sense of humor.
William J. Broad, author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, writes for the New York Times:
Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.
Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.
B. K. S. Iyengar, the author of “Light on Yoga,” published in 1965, exemplified the change. His book made no mention of Hatha’s Tantric roots and praised the discipline as a panacea that could cure nearly 100 ailments and diseases. And so modern practitioners have embraced a whitewashed simulacrum of Hatha.
Broad goes on to discuss some of the studies linking yoga to sexual stimulation and speculates about how that could relate to some of the various guru sex scandals that have plagued yogis for decades.
Broad also recently wrote for the times How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, an extremely interesting piece that’s made frustrating by its lack of comparisons between the number of injuries in yoga and the number of injuries in other types of strength training. But here’s a taste:
Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.
Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, “they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”
(via Dangerous Meme)
Dr. Joe Rosen at the Dartmouth Medical Centre believes that within five years he’ll be able to graft extra limbs such as wings and tails to humans. According to a Guardian Unlimited article “When we have a limb amputated, our neural map of that limb gradually fades away; and if we gain a body part, our neural map expands accordingly.” Rosen says “If I were to give you wings, you would develop, literally, a winged brain. Our bodies change our brains, and our brains are infinitely mouldable.”
Link (via Thumbmonkey).
Update: It appears that as of Spring 2007 Dr. Rosen is now more focused on facial reconstructive surgery than these more fringe pursuits.