Director’s Blog The Research!America awards dinner is like a lot of DC galas, complete with members of Congress, celebrities, and speeches to honor those who have contributed to a cause. For Research!America, the cause is biomedical research and this year, as in each of the past 25 years, there were honors bestowed on advocates for cancer and rare diseases. Kathy Giusti, diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1998, spoke passionately about the lack of research on this blood cancer and her singular fight to create a registry and clinical trials, leading to new treatments that have extended her own life and the lives of many others well beyond all predictions. The parents of Sam Berns, an icon for the rare disease progeria, spoke of their son’s commitment to find a cure for this disorder in which children age rapidly and die early. Sam died last month at age 17, but during his brief life, and partly through his efforts working with the world’s foremost genetics labs, the genetic cause was found and new treatments were developed that will almost certainly extend life for others with this rare mutation (see Sam’s inspirational Ted talk ). For me, what made this event different from previous years was the recognition of advocates for people with mental illness. The actress Glenn Close was recognized for co-founding BringChange2Mind, a campaign to reduce negative attitudes toward those with mental illness. In her eloquent remarks accepting the award, Glenn introduced her sister, Jessie Close, and her nephew, Calen Pick, who each battle serious mental illness. Jessie has struggled with bipolar disorder and Calen with schizophrenia. When Glenn invited Jessie and Calen to make a few remarks, the evening really became historic. Together, they described a journey undertaken with Deborah Levy and her colleagues at McLean Hospital and elsewhere over the past 3 years. The research team found that Calen and Jessie shared a rare genomic copy number variant resulting in extra copies of the gene for glycine decarboxylase. This gene encodes the enzyme that degrades glycine, a key modulator of the NMDA receptor, which has been implicated in psychosis. Having extra copies of this gene, it seemed possible that Jessie and Calen would be deficient in glycine, with less activity of the NMDA receptor. When Dr. Levy and her colleagues gave glycine to Jessie and Calen under double blind conditions (in which neither doctor nor patient know whether glycine or placebo is being given), the response was like giving insulin to a person with diabetes—their psychiatric symptoms largely resolved. When the drug was stopped, their symptoms returned. When they received glycine again under non-blind conditions, the same improvements were observed.
Director’s Blog Conventional wisdom says that there is a long delay between a research finding and putting that finding into practice. Based on treatments for hypertension, that delay is usually described as 17 years. So it is especially worth noting an announcement last week from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that 5 percent of the Mental Health Block Grant allocation would be used to implement evidence-based treatments for first episode psychosis (FEP)
Just returning from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. While media reports covered speeches from some of the 40 heads of state attending or skewered the over-the-top parties of the rich and famous associated with this annual meeting, they missed a remarkable story: this was the year that mental health became a hot topic at the WEF.
June 3 marked the first White House Conference on Mental Health in 14 years. President Obama opened the event by describing how many people “suffer in silence” rather than seeking help: Source: WhiteHouse.gov We see it in the veterans who come home from the battlefield with invisible wounds of war, but who feel like seeking treatment is somehow a sign of weakness – when, in fact, it’s a sign of strength. We see it in the parents who would do anything for their kids, but who often fight their mental health battle alone – afraid that reaching out would invite judgment or reflect badly on them.
Director’s Blog Meredith, a 15-year-old high school student from San Diego, wrote this year’s breakthrough paper on modeling global epidemics. An 11-year-old boy from upstate New York solved a problem in protein folding using a computer game called Foldit.
Director’s Blog In recent months, there has been a growing global interest in brain science. The President called attention to the effort to map the human brain in his State of the Union address, the European Union recently announced its largest scientific award (1 billion euros) for the Human Brain Project , and private foundations such as the Allen Brain Institute and the Kavli Foundation have announced new bold efforts to map the brain. 1 At the same time, there has been an unprecedented national conversation about what role mental illness plays in gun violence
Director’s Blog In a wonderful new paper in Science , Jordi Quoidbach, Dan Gilbert, and Tim Wilson describe the “end of history illusion.” 1 This is not about the Mayan calendar or a Y2K syndrome. These scientists studied 19,000 people across six studies to answer a simple question: why do people so often make decisions that their future selves regret? Their results show that people consistently report that they have changed substantially in the past decade and just as consistently predict that they will not change nearly as much in the next decade