Archive by category | Old Updates

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

Does human embryonic stem cell research get a fair chance?

The use of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in research is of course highly controversial, raising ethical questions that for many people amount to serious dilemmas. In our April editorial we didn’t address the moral questions at all, but criticized recent efforts to discredit hESC research.  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

I beg to differ

We can agree to disagree. Although I’m a huge, geeky fan of hers, I have to respectfully disagree with Apoorva’s post on Spoonful of Medicine about the Stanley Medical Research Institute’s $100 million gift to the Broad Institute (originally reported in the Boston Globe). The Broad Institute, which is arguably the be all and end all of genomics research, plans to compile genetic and clinical data from thousands of people in order to identify candidate genes that associate with psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Apoorva said:  … Read more

Rock on, neuroscientists

In case you missed it, the New York Times profiled Joseph LeDoux’s rock band, which is appropriately named the Amygdaloids. The band’s fans may be even more impressive than its members, who are all neuroscientists. Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash (subject of A Beautiful Mind) describes the Amygdaloids music as “psychoanalytic”.  Read more

Space, the final frontier

If you lose your marbles in zero gravity, your fellow astronauts are assigned to catch them. According to the LA Times, NASA has a detailed, if slightly barbaric plan for dealing with an astronaut’s psychotic or suicidal behavior while in space. To prevent a distraught astronaut from harming his colleagues, crewmates are instructed to physically restrain him with bungee cords and administer tranquilizers. Then what? The written plan does not elaborate, but a NASA spokesman quoted in the Times suggests that officials on the ship and on the ground would decide if the mission should be aborted. This report comes in the wake of astronaut Lisa Nowak’s arrest in Orlando for attempted kidnapping.  Read more

Voodoo economics

If you were happy with the level of NIH funding in 2006, you’re in luck! According to the 2008 budget proposed by US President George Bush on Monday, NIH funding will remain flat. Oh sure, the numbers sound good. On paper, the proposal includes a $232 million increase relative to 2006 (Congress has yet to pass 2007’s doozy of a budget). However, $200 million of that is already promised to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The remaining $32 million increases NIH’s budget by 0.1% relative to 2006, far less than the 3.7% yearly inflation rate estimated by NIH. Although the budget includes allotments for new grants, no inflationary increases are planned to increase grant size. That means you, students and post docs with NRSAs: the proposal freezes student and post doc stipends at fiscal year 2007 levels.  Read more