The All of Us Research Program Seeks Feedback from the Community

The All of Us Research Program will create a community of one million or more people from across the U.S. to improve the future of health. Those who join the program will contribute their health, environment, and lifestyle information over an extended period of time. By gathering information from such a large group of people, researchers will be able to learn how specific factors impact an individual’s health, and disease prevention and treatment. This approach to tailoring health care for each unique individual is called, “precision medicine.” The research program developers want to hear from everyone about their thoughts and ideas for how to make All of Us a success. Ideas on topics such as participant engagement and communications, health information data security, and the type of data to be collected are welcome from researchers, health care providers, patients, or anyone who wants to contribute to greater knowledge.

For online form, click here.

NIMH Director’s Message: The Push for Suicide Prevention, By Joshua Gordon

I wrote in my welcome message about my priorities. First, we need to fund excellent science. Second, we should support studies that will yield benefits on short, medium, and long­term timescales. I also have three particular areas of interest: neural circuits, computational and theoretical psychiatry, and suicide prevention. Here I will discuss possible approaches to suicide prevention, representing an area of research with the potential to yield benefits in the short­term.

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SAMHSA provides up to $121 million for adult mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded up to a total of $121 million over the next five years for mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery. These SAMHSA grants are geared toward expanding and enhancing behavioral health care services for adults across the nation. “This funding will help fulfill SAMHSA’s commitment to reduce the impact of substance use and mental health disorders on America’s communities,” said SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto. “It will provide services to a number of vulnerable groups including people with HIV/AIDS and the homeless, among others.”

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Childhood brain injury linked to adult psychiatric illness, earlier death

Young people who sustain a traumatic brain injury before the age of 25 may be more likely experience a psychiatric illness and die earlier than those who have not had such an injury, according to an analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers also found that those who had a head injury may complete fewer years of school and are more likely receive a disability pension.

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Family member engagement with early psychosis specialty care

BACKGROUND: Family members of individuals with early psychosis (EP) play critical roles in their engagement with EP services, but family member experiences of those roles are insufficiently understood.

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The RAISE Connection Program: Psychopharmacological Treatment of People With a First Episode of Schizophrenia. Abstract

OBJECTIVE: This study examined the adherence of psychiatrists to the Schedule of Recommended First and Second Line Antipsychotic Medications (“Antipsychotic Schedule”), which was implemented in two Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) Connection Program Implementation and Evaluation Study clinics.

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Worldwide Study Seeks to Unlock the Brain’s Genetic Code; Data scientists discover seven genetic variants linked to intracranial volume, Parkinson’s disease risk, and cognitive ability

Scientists collaborating across 250 institutions in 35 countries have identified variations of the genetic code that are associated with intracranial volume, which is a reflection of the maximum brain volume an individual achieves over a lifetime. These variations were also found to be associated with a person’s individual risk for Parkinson’s disease and to cognitive ability. The findings provide new avenues of research that may lead to an enhanced understanding of how differences in our genetic code can predispose individuals to brain disorders.

The findings were the result of the collective analysis of MRI brain scans and DNA from over 32,000 people worldwide. The researchers published their work in the October 3, 2016 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience .

“The magnitude of this study is truly remarkable,” said Vinay Pai, Ph.D., director of the Division of Health Informatics Technologies at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). “If you want to discover genes that affect the brain, the only way we know how to do that is by analyzing tens of thousands of brain scans and their corresponding genetic data. But, that requires bringing together hundreds of researchers and their biomedical datasets, all of whom may have a different way of looking at the data. In this study, we are seeing the fruits of NIH investments in data science, which have helped to ensure that all the researchers were analyzing the data in the same way and with the same degree of scientific rigor. This is a study that simply could not have been conducted five years ago because no system existed to enable collaboration on this scale.”

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Molecular Tool Parses Social Fear Circuit Intertwined with Aggression Hub

In its debut performance, a powerful new genetic engineering tool has revealed secrets of functionally distinct brain circuits for social fear and aggression in mice. This, even though these sets of neurons seem hopelessly intertwined. The tool, called CANE (Capturing Activated Neuronal Ensembles), helps trace distinct pathways embedded within the brain’s spaghetti-like wiring.

NIMH grantee Fan Wang, Ph.D. , of Duke University, and colleagues, reported on their discovery November 23, 2016 in the journal Neuron.

“CANE promises to be widely adopted, in part, because it uses readily available ‘on-the-shelf’ methods that many neuroscientists are already familiar with,” explained Michelle Freund, Ph.D., of the NIMH Office of Technology Development and Coordination, which funds the project.

CANE provides a window into the cause-and-effect relationship between specific behaviors and brain circuitry. It combines genetically-engineered mice and viruses with optogenetics – which permits specific circuits to be experimentally switched on-and-off by pulses of light. The viruses infect neurons with telltale tracers that visualize circuits when activated by specific behaviors, enabling precise timing and targeting.

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How Health Communicators and Journalists Can Help Replace Stigma with Science

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, M.D. blogs about how one can use science to counter the stigma of drug addiction. There are still people who believe addiction is a moral failing that could be solved if the person had more willpower. In fact, the science is clear: Addiction is a chronic, relapsing neurobiological disorder caused by changes in the brain that make controlling drug use extremely difficult, even when an individual knows it has terrible consequences for his or her life and health and wants to stop. Journalists can help reduce the stigma toward addiction by providing information that helps the reader understand the person suffering from addiction rather than writing stories that generate anger and disgust. Increasing the public understanding of the underlying pathology and cultural reinforcers of addiction is a critical first step for improving the way our society addresses addiction. Journalists can dig deeper and ask how everyone can facilitate a more compassionate public health-based approach to those suffering from addiction.

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NIDA: Nonmedical Treatment for Cocaine Addiction Shows Promise in Pilot Trial

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) projects electromagnetic fields into the brain and can be used to either increase or decrease neuronal responsiveness in targeted brain areas. Researchers have hypothesized that administering TMS to strengthen activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and downstream brain regions can alleviate cocaine addiction (see Narrative of Discovery: Can Magnets Treat Cocaine Addiction?).

Patients who received transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) were more likely to abstain from cocaine than patients who received medications for symptoms associated with abstinence. NIDA researchers concluded that TMS appears to be safe and its efficacy as a treatment for cocaine addiction deserves to be evaluated in a larger clinical trial.

Previous findings that support the hypothesis include:

  • Studies in animals and people have demonstrated that exposure to cocaine weakens neuronal activity in the PFC, and have linked that decreased activity to some of the primary manifestations of addiction, such as craving and compulsive drug-seeking.
  • In a recent study, rats stopped seeking cocaine after researchers experimentally increased activity levels in their prelimbic cortex, a sub region of the rat cortex that shares functional similarities with the human dorsolateral PFC (see Prefrontal Cortex Stimulation Stops Compulsive Drug Seeking in Rats).

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