I Predict that People on Social Media Are Going to Be Nothing Short of Horrible Today

After all, it has been revealed that George W. Bush underwent a stent procedure in order to open a blocked artery. That kind of news is certain to bring out the hate from the port side of cyberspace.

This blog, of course, is a well-mannered and civilized place, so its hard-working staff wishes President Bush a speedy and complete recovery, and a long and happy life.

Tremendously Good News (Fight Against Diabetes Division)

This is huge

Fiorina and his team studied hundreds of pathways in animals with diabetes. They eventually isolated one, known as ATP/P2X7R, which triggers the T-cell attacks on the pancreas, rendering it unable to produce insulin.

“By identifying the ATP/P2X7R pathway as the early mechanism in the body that fires up an alloimmune response, we found the root cause of diabetes,” says Fiorina. “With the cause identified, we can now focus on treatment options. Everything from drug therapies to transplants that require less immunosuppression is being explored.”

This has extraordinary implications for people under 20 who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. According to the article, it will still be a few years before therapies can be tested, but now, we are very close to finally having a cure for a large subset of the population living with diabetes.

Psst! HPV Vaccines Are Good Things. Pass It On!

The writers over at the Incidental Economist are on the other side of the policy divide on a host of matters vis-à-vis yours truly, but there are issues we agree on. One is that it is really important to vaccinate kids--and yes, that includes boys as well as girls--against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Aaron Carroll has performed a mitzvah by highlighting a study which points out the following:

This study looked at the prevalence of HPV among women and girls in the three years before the HPV vaccine was introduced (2003-2006) and the three years after it was introduced (2007-2010). The results are shocking. Just looking at adolescent girls age 14-19 years old, the prevalence of HPV covered by the vaccine fell from 11.5% before 2006 to 5.1% after. That’s a drop of more than 50%. And before any skeptics weigh in, there was no difference in the racial/ethnicity of the samples before and after the vaccine, nor any differences in sexual activity.

Of course, I cannot help but recall that Texas governor Rick Perry got a lot of grief for having ordered young girls in school to get the vaccine unless their parents opted out. As it turns out, Perry did the right thing from a health policy perspective. Perhaps one might argue that government has no business mandating vaccines, but few people doubt that government does have a role to play in promoting health and safety, and if the Perry order applied to public schools that receive taxpayer money, it's hard to see how Perry overreached, even though the state legislature overruled his order.

In any event, it is nice to see that we have an effective way to counteract the spread of HPV. We should take advantage of that knowledge and push for kids to get vaccinated. It saves lives. 


This Is Also My Brain in Heaven

Want to live forever? Drink coffee

For hundreds of years, coffee has been one of the two or three most popular beverages on earth. But it’s only recently that scientists are figuring out that the drink has notable health benefits. In one large-scale epidemiological study from last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study. It’s not clear exactly what coffee had to do with their longevity, but the correlation is striking.

Other recent studies have linked moderate coffee drinking — the equivalent of three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day or a single venti-size Starbucks — with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing 
Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate canceroral cancer and breast cancer recurrence.

Perhaps most consequential, animal experiments show that caffeine may reshape the biochemical environment inside our brains in ways that could stave off dementia. In a 
2012 experiment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, mice were briefly starved of oxygen, causing them to lose the ability to form memories. Half of the mice received a dose of caffeine that was the equivalent of several cups of coffee. After they were reoxygenated, the caffeinated mice regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than the uncaffeinated. Close examination of the animals’ brain tissue showed that the caffeine disrupted the action of adenosine, a substance inside cells that usually provides energy, but can become destructive if it leaks out when the cells are injured or under stress. The escaped adenosine can jump-start a biochemical cascade leading to inflammation, which can disrupt the function of neurons, and potentially contribute to neurodegeneration or, in other words, dementia.

Read the whole thing. I am guessing that this means tea also does a body good.

Reforming the D.S.M.

I am no expert on mental health issues, so I don't know whether objections to the D.S.M. are all that valid, but this article struck me as being very interesting:

When Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, came out swinging with his critiques of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a couple of weeks ago, longtime critics of psychiatry were shocked and gratified. Insel announced that that the D.S.M.’s diagnostic categories lacked validity, that they were not “based on any objective measures,” and that, “unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma or AIDS,” which are grounded in biology, they were nothing more than constructs put together by committees of experts. America’s psychiatrist-in-chief seemed to be reiterating what many had been saying all along: that psychiatry was a pseudoscience, unworthy of inclusion in the medical kingdom. To anti-psychiatrists, Insel’s sudden disparagement of their bitter enemy—a mere three weeks before the A.P.A. released the fifth edition of the D.S.M.—came as aid and comfort, a large dose of Schadefreudian therapy.

But Insel was not saying anything he hadn’t been saying for years. In fact, he wasn’t even the first N.I.M.H. director to say such a thing. Steven Hyman, his predecessor at the post, first began expressing concerns about the
 D.S.M. more than a decade ago, noting that its categories had been invented primarily to provide a common language for psychiatrists, to ensure that any two doctors, presented with the same patient, would be able to agree on what diagnosis to render, and that the diagnosis would mean the same thing to every other doctor. Diagnostic labels, according to Hyman, had never been intended as more than useful constructs, placeholders that would provide agreement until psychiatry could develop objective measures—presumably when the understanding of the brain caught up with the understanding of the heart or the understanding of viral transmission.

A book full of detailed descriptions of human suffering was not likely to stay within those narrow boundaries. From the time the
 D.S.M.-III first took the descriptive approach, in 1980, bureaucracies like Insel’s and Hyman’s, which fund most of the mental-health research in the country, began acting as if diagnoses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder described conditions as real as AIDS or lymphoma, encouraging, if not forcing, researchers to tie their studies to D.S.M. diagnoses. At the Food and Drug Administration, new drug applications tied to D.S.M. diagnoses were placed on a faster (or less slow) track than drugs only tied to symptoms; it was much easier to get approval for a drug targeted to a major depressive disorder than a drug targeted to, say, sadness. In school systems, a D.S.M. diagnosis was an indication that a child had a medical condition that required special services. In courtrooms, expert testimony about a defendant’s mental disorder could affect the disposition of the case. The D.S.M. had been taken, as one of its staunchest defenders put it, “too seriously.” An entire mental-health system had followed the manual down a rabbit hole and into a world that doesn’t really exist. Or, as Hyman put it—and as Insel had long agreed—the D.S.M. had locked psychiatrists in an “epistemic prison.”

The reification of the 
D.S.M. might not have been more than a philosophical problem, were it not for the fact that, at least in Hyman and Insel’s view, it was beginning to hamstring research. And, indeed, the D.S.M. has frustrated scientists, who note that the most common symptoms of mental disorder—sadness and worry, for instance, or delusions and hallucinations—appear as criteria for many different diagnoses; that many patients can be diagnosed with more than one disorder; and that the few solid findings about mental illness that have emerged from genetic and neuroscience studies indicate that the D.S.Ms categories simply don’t correspond to biological reality. Looking for the neurochemistry of mental disorders that don’t necessarily exist has turned out to be as futile as using a map of the moon to get around Manhattan.

I don't know if I am prepared to say that psychiatry is "a pseudoscience," but it may well be that the D.S.M. is preventing psychiatry from being a more exact science. In any event, it will be very interesting to see where this campaign against the D.S.M. goes.