Addiction

Addiction

One of the largest imaging study of the human brain ever conducted is helping researchers understand why some teenagers start smoking or experimenting with drugs and others don’t. NARSAD grantee Mark Bellgrove, Ph.D. Associate Professor, School of Psychology at University of Queensland in Australia, was part of an international team of researchers that discovered a number of previously unknown networks in the brain that provide strong evidence that some teenagers are at higher risk for drug and alcohol experimentation than others because their brains are wired to make them more impulsive. The findings, published online in Nature Neuroscience on April 29, were based on studies of 1,896 14-year-olds whose brains were scanned using functional MRI imaging (fMRI). The scans revealed that diminished activity in a network involving the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain is associated with experimentation with alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs in early adolescence.

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Results of research by a team of researchers at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago were published in Translational Psychiatry on April 17th, showing that a blood test can diagnose depression in teens. This marks the development of a biologically-based diagnostic tool for mental illness, similar to diagnostic tools available for most physical illnesses. Currently, a depression diagnosis in teens relies on a patient’s willingness and capacity to accurately report symptoms and their physician’s subjective observations. A more objective diagnostic tool may lead to earlier diagnoses, thus potentially preventing other risk factors of teen depression including substance abuse, a range of physical illnesses and suicide.

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In Charlie Rose’s opening of the 2nd season of his series “The Brain,” he stated, “It has been said that the brain will be to the 21st century what the atom was to the 20th century.”  This fascinating episode of the well-known PBS show featured a panel of revered scientists, including Foundation Scientific Council Members Nora D. Volkow, M.D . and Nobel Laureate Eric R. Kandel , M.D.

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From The Quarterly, Fall 2011

For people with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder─complex, heterogeneous illnesses on their own─having other brain and behavior disorders at the same time is the rule rather than the exception. This concurrence of conditions, called co-morbidity, not only exacerbates symptoms, but also can greatly complicate treatment, making medications less effective or inappropriate. Treating these patients is currently a trial-and-error process.

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