Crime, punishment and neurotoxicity

Instead of a tough-talking mayor, new windows may be to thank for the drop in violent crime in New York City. The Washington Post reports that according to economist Rick Nevin, 65-95% of the variation in violent crime in 9 countries can be explained by lead. Nevins claims that crime rates rise and fall approximately 20 years after environmental lead concentrations increase and decrease, respectively. This theory isn’t new, but its relation to American politics is. Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current presidential candidate, claims that his law enforcement policies reduced homicides by 67% and total crime by 57% during his tenure as mayor from 1994-2001. Nevins argues that Giuliani benefited from policies in the 1960s to replace old lead windows (to reduce deadly falls) and in the 1970s and 1980s to reduce lead in paint and gasoline.  Read more

Clinical trials and tribulations

It’s double-blind or nothing when it comes to phase III clinical trials. Although placebo groups are absolutely vital to the clinical validity of medical treatments, a recent article in The Lancet has me thinking about the ethics of treating desperate patients with saline.  Read more

Wait wait…don’t tell me

If you could look into a crystal ball to find out how your life ends, would you? Yesterday, James Watson (yes, that James Watson) decided that he didn’t want to know. His personal genome was sequenced by 454 Life Sciences and the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Watson will make his entire genome publicly available with the exception of one gene: apolipoprotein E, the gene most strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which killed his grandmother.  Read more

Sad coincidence

As the news out of Blacksburg, Virginia continues to unfold, it is difficult not to reflect on the importance of mental health services for young adults. In a sad coincidence, a meta-analysis published today in JAMA suggests that despite earlier reports of increased suicide risk, the benefits of antidepressant treatment in children and young adults outweigh the risks. Bridge et al. report that antidepressants helped young people with major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety and increased their risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts by less than 1%. Improved treatment protocols specific for children and teenagers will hopefully help young adults in need. Unfortunately, we all know that treatments can only help those who seek them.  Read more

Is it all about timing?

Just a few weeks can separate a splash from a quiet ripple. On 5 April, Neuron and Nature both published articles reporting genetically targeted silencing of mammalian neurons. In Neuron, Lerchner et al. detailed drug-induced hyperpolarization of neurons expressing a C. elegans chloride channel within hours of treatment. In Nature, Zhang et al. reported light-induced hyperpolarization of neurons expressing an archaea opsin within milliseconds of illumination. The media took note of Zhang’s article, but not Lerchner’s.  Read more


We may have to thank body builders for the next big breakthrough in the battle against Parkinson disease. Companies that market powders and potions to those obsessed with their glutes and pecs claim that the dietary supplement creatine changes physiques. However, the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recently announced a phase III clinical trial examining the ability of creatine to slow symptom progression in people with Parkinson disease.  Read more