Category Archives: Health

Working to Build Better Antipsychotic Drug by Treating Schizophrenia’s Cause

The classic symptoms of schizophrenia—paranoia, hallucinations, the inability to function socially—can be managed with antipsychotic drugs. But exactly how these drugs work has long been a mystery.

Now, researchers at Pitt have discovered that antipsychotic drugs work akin to a Rube Goldberg machine—that is, they suppress something that in turn suppresses the bad effects of schizophrenia, but not the exact cause itself. In a paper published in the Aug. 24 Journal of Neuroscience, they say that pinpointing what’s actually causing the problem could lead to better avenues of schizophrenia treatment that more directly and efficiently target the disease.

“In the past five years or so, we’ve really started to understand what may be going wrong with the schizophrenic brain,” says Anthony Grace, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and professor of psychology in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences and professor of psychiatry in the Pitt School of Medicine, who is senior author of the paper.

Schizophrenia is made up of three different types of symptoms. Positive symptoms, which are added onto a “normal” personality, include hallucinations and delusions, such as hearing voices, thinking people are after you, or thinking you’re being targeted by aliens. Those are the classic symptoms of schizophrenia and the ones antipsychotic medications work on best. Grace says these are the symptoms most likely related to a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

The other two categories of symptoms are negative (what’s missing from the normal personality—the ability to interact socially or hold down a job; some emotional flattening) and cognitive (the ability to think linearly or concentrate on one thing at a time). These two really aren’t addressed well by antipsychotic drugs. “Blocking the dopamine system seems to fix classic hallucinations and delusions a whole lot better than it fixes the other problems,” says Grace.

Grace has been studying the role dopamine plays in the schizophrenic brain since 1978. It’s long been known that after several weeks of treatment with antipsychotic drugs, dopamine-producing neurons are inactivated. “It would suggest to us that in schizophrenia there is not too much dopamine, but rather the dopamine system is too responsive,” says Grace.

Therefore, by inactivating the neurons, this overresponsivity should be able to be treated. “If there were just too much dopamine in the brain, one would expect the biggest treatment effect would be at the beginning and then it would diminish,” Grace says.

More at Pitt Chronicle

Pitt Team Regrows Blood Vessels With a Potent Molecule

Ever since the Nobel Prize for nerve growth factor was awarded more than 30 years ago, researchers have been searching for ways to use growth factor clinically.

University of Pittsburgh Professor Yadong Wang has developed a minimally invasive method of delivering growth factor to regrow blood vessels. His research, which could be used to treat heart disease, the most common cause of death in the Western world, was published in the Aug. 1 issue of the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. …

When the researchers injected their growth factor compound under the skin of mice, they saw something amazing: New blood vessels grew, and large ones, not just tiny capillaries. “We had structures that resembled arterioles—small arteries that lead to a network of capillaries,” says Wang.

Moreover, the structures stuck around. At least a month later, after only one injection of the growth factor complex, the new blood vessels were still there.

More at Pitt Chronicle


Urban farm in South Florida opens today

The Urban Farmer

Having successfully convinced my parents to subscribe to a CSA (community-supported agriculture), we headed to The Urban Farmer in Pompano Beach to pick up our first batch of goodies — eggplant, star fruit, arugula, and much more — all picked fresh on this post-industrial plot of land. More to come but just some preliminary photos of the tour we got from the very obliging father of Urban Farmer owner Jessica Padron.

The Urban Farmer

Today, Saturday Oct. 30, from 8:30am to 3pm will be the official ribbon cutting and grand opening of The Urban Farmer. Stop by and support locally grown food in unlikely suburbia!

The Urban Farmer

The Urban Farmer is located at 1730 N. Powerline Road, Pompano Beach, FL, on the east side of Powerline Road about a 1/2 mile south of Copans road.

The Urban Farmer

Supermodel’s ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ Pushes Her to Make Film on Mothers’ Health

Trailer: No Woman, No Cry

Supermodel Christy Turlington Burns has made her directorial debut with the film “No Woman, No Cry,” which premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday.

Turlington Burns was inspired to make the film after the birth of her first child, in which she experienced hemorrhaging. “I had … survivor’s guilt,” Turlington Burns, who is an advocate for maternal health for humanitarian group CARE, told Reuters. “I was fortunate, but think of all the women around the world who aren’t.”

According to the World Health Organization, the main causes of deaths related to childbirth are hemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labor.

Improving maternal health is one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. To show that the goals are achievable, experts have pointed to Bangladesh, one of the countries featured in the film.

In Bangladesh, abortion mortality fell by three quarters over the past three decades. A massive decrease in maternal deaths occurred because women now have access to safe abortion services and emergency obstetric care, a study by Carine Ronsmans from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed.

“No Woman, No Cry” also features the stories of a Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.

Check out other solutions for improving maternal health or to participate in the global call to solutions, please visit Healthy Mothers, Strong World: The Next Generation of Ideas for Maternal Health.

No Dummy . . .

Cynthia Sherry is having dinner with seven gentlemen at a Dallas restaurant. All of them are radiologists, and Sherry is about to become the first female partner of the practice. During the meal, one partner says to her, “I’ll bet you’ve never been to dinner with seven men before.” If the radiologists think Sherry is uncomfortable with the numbers, they’re wrong. More >

BPA: From bad to worse

The first major study of health effects in people from a chemical used in plastic baby bottles, food cans and a host of other products links it with possible risks for heart disease and diabetes. (AP)

See also: This is your fetus’ brain on plastics

And here, for your enjoyment (coff), an excerpt of my undergrad paper on BPA. This stuff ain’t good for you.

During the past thirty years, certain chemicals have been found to disrupt the endocrine systems of wildlife, lab animals, and humans. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic compound, first synthesized in 1905, that is made from two moles of phenol and acetone (hence its name). In 1936, Dodds and Lawson fed BPA to ovariectomized rats and found that it could act as a weak estrogen. But its principal use was created in 1953, when researchers found that they could combine BPA and the poison gas phosgene to form a hard, clear polycarbonate plastic. Bisphenol A-based polycarbonate, commonly referred to as just “polycarbonate,” has a variety of uses. Most important for the purposes of its biological effects are the uses in which BPA can be ingested. BPA is used the lining of cans, in tooth sealants and in “white filling” composites, and it has been found to leach into saliva (Brotons et al., 1995; Olea et al., 1996). The chemical’s old reputation as an estrogen re-emerged seven years ago, when scientists at Stanford University reported that their experiments had been tainted by BPA leaching from plastic flasks they were using. The cells reacted even though the amounts were too small to be detected by the maker’s safety testing procedures (Krishnan et al., 1993).

The levels of BPA exposure determined safe by the FDA have been shown in many experiments to be unsafe for consumption. More studies will be needed to validate these effects. But most importantly, more basic research is needed on how BPA mimics estrogen and binds to its receptor; how that binding triggers estrogenic effects; and what those effects mean in terms of organ (including brain) development. In the meantime, it seems that women of childbearing age should avoid, as much as possible, exposure to polycarbonate plastics.