Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – July 18, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D.

Mental illness

Long-Term Adverse Effects of Childhood Mental Illness

According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of children in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental illness resulting from changes in brain circuits, behavior, and cognition. A child with a mental illness is more likely to function poorly as an adult than a child without a mental illness. This was the conclusion from a population-based study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry. The study examined survey results of 1420 male and female participants from 11 rural counties in North Carolina, to assess if a psychiatric illness in childhood was more likely to predict negative outcomes later in life such as criminal activity, inability to keep a job, divorce, multiple addictions, multiple psychiatric problems or suicidality. Survey responses were taken over two periods, between 9 and 16 years of age and between 19 and 26 years of age. Out of the 1420 participants, 466 (30%) met criteria for subthreshold psychiatric problems only, 527 (26.2%) displayed behavioral or emotional disorders during childhood, and 427 (42.7%) never met these criteria. Participant survey responses taken between 19 and 26 years of age indicated adverse long-term outcomes for adults in the subthreshold psychiatric and behavioral/emotional disorder groups. Participants with a childhood psychiatric disorder were six times as likely to have one adverse adult outcome compared to those with no history of psychiatric problems. Those with milder symptoms were three times as likely to have problems as adults. Interestingly, many of the adult outcomes studied were related to symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. Mild cases of mental illness including emotional or behavioral disorders may remain outside of diagnosable cases, especially during childhood. While it may not be surprising that children with a mental illness often display continued impairment into adulthood, the novel findings here are that the long-term adverse effects were evident even after controlling for sex, race, childhood family hardship variables, and adult psychiatric status. (Ina Yang, NPR)

Stem Cell Research

Using Stem Cells in Research Shows Promise for Autism Models

Federal policies allowing for responsible scientific research involving human stem cells were put in place in 2009 to help scientists better understand the human body, discover new drugs, and replace tissue damaged by disease, aging, or injury. Neuroscientists can use stem cells to study disorders of brain development, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 68 children in the U.S. Most cases lack a clear genetic basis, and the difficulty of re-enacting human brain development has prevented a full understanding of ASD. A new study published in the journal Cell, by the laboratory of Dr. Flora Vaccarino, the Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry and Professor of Neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine, used a three-dimensional neuron network derived from stem cells derived from the skin of four autistic patients to investigate developmental changes in individuals with severe ASD. While no known underlying genomic mutation could be identified, the researchers did find an upregulation of genes involved in cell division and synapse formation. The number of inhibitory neurons in the neuron network had also increased. A specific gene, FOXG1, was found to be responsible for the overproduction of these inhibitory neurons and correlated with patient symptom severity. Through the use of stem cells, this study may have found one biomarker of ASD that could be a potential drug target. (Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times – Science Now)

Global Health

Crowdsourcing Simple Solutions to Save Millions of Lives

Every two minutes, a woman dies in childbirth. One in ten newborns needs help breathing and many die without proper care. Clean drinking water is rare in some parts of the world. These global health problems may be eradicated with new cost-effective innovations. The Innovation Countdown 2030 is a list of 30 innovations set up by the international nonprofit, PATH, with the goal of identifying, evaluating, and showcasing health technologies with great promise to save lives. The top 30 were chosen by independent health experts and include a uterine balloon tamponade developed by Massachusetts General Hospital used to stop bleeding in hemorrhaging women, a Zimba Batch Chlorinator to chlorinate water, and a Laerdal Upright Resuscitator to help babies breathe. Most of the innovations on the list are currently in use or undergoing trials in developing countries. With projects like The Innovation Countdown, PATH aims to help make the Sustainable Development Goals, as defined by the United Nations, into reality. (Ina Yang, NPR)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!


Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

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