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Scientists Test Drug for Traumatic Brain Injury

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Nobody ever thought head trauma was a good thing, but ongoing studies make it clear just how bad it can be. Now, researchers have begun testing an experimental drug that may help prevent some of the injury’s negative effects. Their results were recently published in the journal PLoS One.

The effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can last a lifetime. At the moment, according to study co-author Linda Van Eldik, treatment options for TBI are limited. "Traumatic brain injury represents a major unmet medical need, as there is currently no effective therapy to prevent the increased risk of dementia and other neurologic complications, such as post-traumatic epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders, and post concussive symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, memory problems, dizziness, and irritability," she said in a press release

Van Eldik and her colleagues are working to develop a drug to nip some of those long-term effects in the bud. "Following a head injury, the body mobilizes immune cells [called cytokines] to respond to the trauma and jump-start the healing process," she said. "Although these immune cells help repair the injury, they also cause inflammation that may damage the tissuea sort of double-edged sword."

The researchers hope to hold on to the benefits of immune response while blocking the inflammation that can lead to later problems. They believe the best candidate for this process may be a compound called MW151. Van Eldik has been working with MW151 for years. In a 2007 test, Van Eldik and her colleagues found that MW151 was able to hold off the pro-inflammatory cytokines while preserving the immune system’s cell-repair abilities. These tests were limited to a type of TBI called closed head injury. Van Eldik and her colleagues wanted to see if it would work in other types. 

The researchers ran new tests, this time looking at diffuse TBI (injury spread across a wide area of the brain, as opposed to a small section). They used a technique called midline fluid percussion to induce diffuse brain injuries in lab mice, then dosed the mice with MW151. Some of the mice were euthanized, and their brains, blood, and livers examined to determine if the drug was effective and safe. Other mice were given problem-solving tests to see if the drug had protected their ability to learn. The researchers found that even low doses of MW151 suppressed inflammatory proteins without interfering with cell repair.

"We were delighted to see that MW151 is effective in more than one model of TBI," lead author Adam Bachstetter said in the press release. "MW151 appears to dampen down the detrimental inflammatory responses without suppressing the normal functions that the cells need to maintain health."

MW151 seems like a good candidate so far, but to date, the researchers have only tested the drug on rodents. They hope to progress to clinical trials in the next few years. 

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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