Virtual Human Interviewers May Help Armed Services Members Open Up About PTSD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Gale Lucas, PhD Director of Research USC Institute for Creative Technologies Playa Vista, CA 

Dr. Lucas

Dr. Gale Lucas, PhD
Director of Research
USC Institute for Creative Technologies
Playa Vista, CA

 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: A common barrier to healthcare for psychiatric conditions is the stigma associated with these disorders. Perceived stigma prevents many from reporting their symptoms. Stigma is a particularly pervasive problem among military service members, preventing them from reporting symptoms of combat-related conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This put them at risk for having their symptoms go untreated, with possible disastrous outcomes including suicide attempts. We envisioned a technology system – a virtual human interviewer – whereby military service members can get feedback about their risk for PTSD in a safe place without stigma. Indeed, our prior research has shown that, because its “just a computer” (therefore safe and anonymous), this virtual human interviewer helps people to feel safe discussing sensitive issues like mental health symptoms. In this follow-up research project (published in Frontiers), we sought to demonstrate the value of this kind of virtual human interviewer specifically for encouraging reporting of PTSD symptoms among service members.

Specifically, we were interested in comparing the willingness of service members to report symptoms of PTSD to our virtual human interviewer, compared to the gold standard of the Post Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA). We wanted to isolate the effect of anonymity, separating it from “relational factors” that the virtual human interviewer uses to encourage service members to open up. Indeed, before asking these same questions as on the PDHA to capture PTSD symptoms, the system engages in social dialogue, which build rapport with users. The system asks “get to know you questions,” and throughout the interview, engage in active listening with responses such as nods, smiles, saying “uh huh,” and other encouraging phrases like “that’s great.”

Continue reading

Multivitamins in Pregnancy May Be Associated With Lower Autism Risk

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Elizabeth DeVilbiss, PhD MPH
Dornsife School of Public Health
Drexel University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Unfortunately, not much is known about how diet during pregnancy affects autism risk.  There have been studies in recent years about varied aspects of diet during pregnancy and autism risk involving multivitamins, iron, folic acid, vitamin D, and more, but the evidence is still inconclusive.

After adjusting for several potentially influencing factors in both mothers and children, we found that multivitamin use, with or without additional iron and/or folic acid, was associated with a lower likelihood of child autism spectrum disorder with intellectual disability relative to mothers who did not use folic acid, iron, and multivitamins.

Continue reading

Efficacy of SSRIs for Anxiety Influenced By Patient’s Expectations

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Vanda Faria PhD
Department of Psychology
Uppsala, Sweden 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: It has been debated whether selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety, are more effective than placebo. Concerns have been raised that the beneficial effects of SSRIs, as measured in double-blind clinical trials, may be explained by expectancies (a crucial placebo mechanism) rather than the biochemical compound. But no study has tested experimentally the extent to which the SSRI treatment effect can be influenced by expectancies induced by verbal suggestions.

We compared the efficacy of overt vs. covert administration of an SSRI (escitalopram) in patients with social anxiety disorder. Rather than comparing the SSRI with placebo, we compared it with itself while manipulating the patients’ expectations of improvement. This was achieved by informing one group correctly about the SSRI and its effectiveness (overt group) whereas the comparison (covert) group received incorrect information. By use of a cover story, the covert group was led to believe they were treated with a so called “active placebo”, an ineffective neurokinin-1 antagonist yielding similar side effects as the SSRI but lacking anxiety-reducing properties. But the treatment, dosage and duration was in fact identical in both groups.

Results showed that overt outperformed covert SSRI treatment, as the number of treatment responders was more than three times higher on the main clinical outcome measure when correct information was given. Using neuroimaging (fMRI) we also noted differences between the overt and covert SSRI groups on objective brain activity measures. There were differences between the groups e.g. with regard to activation of the posterior cingulate cortex with treatment, and the functional coupling between this region and the amygdala which is a brain region crucially involved in fear and anxiety. The fMRI  results may reflect the interaction between cognition and emotion as the brain changes differently with treatment pending on the expectations of improvement.

Continue reading

Novel Brain Imaging May Detect Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Sanja Josef Golubic, dr. sc

Department of Physics, Faculty of Science
University of Zagreb, Croatia

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Our study was aimed to search the topological biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease. A recent evidences suggest that the decades long progression of brain degeneration that is irreversible by the stage of symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease, may account for failures to develop successful disease-modifying therapies. Currently, there is a pressing worldwide search for a marker of very early, possibly reversible, pathological changes related to Alzheimer’s disease in still cognitively intact individuals, that could provide a critical opportunity for evolving of efficient therapeutic interventions.

Three years ago we reported the discovery of the novel, fast brain pathway specialized for rapid processing of the simple tones. We named it gating loop. Gating loop directly links auditory brain areas to prefrontal brain area. We have also noticed the high sensitivity of the gating loop processing on AD pathology. It was inspiration to focus our Alzheimer’s disease biomarker search in the direction of prefrontal brain activation during listening of simple tones.

Continue reading

Stepped Care Case-Finding Intervention Can Provide Cost Effective Care For PTSD After a Disaster

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr-Gregory-H-Cohen.jpg 

Dr. Cohen

Gregory H. Cohen, MPhil, MSW
Statistical Analyst
Department of Epidemiology
School of Public Health
Boston University 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We simulated a stepped care case-finding approach to the treatment of posttraumatic stress in New York City, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Stepped care includes an initial triage screening step which identifies whether a presenting individual is in need of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or can be adequately treated at a lower level of care.

Our simulation suggests that a stepped care approach to treating symptoms of posttraumatic stress in the aftermath of a hurricane is superior to care as usual in terms of reach and treatment-effectiveness, while being cost-effective. Continue reading

Gay and Bisexual Men With Less Education and Income At Greater Risk of Suicide

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Oliver Ferlatte PhD

Men’s Health Research Program
University of British Columbia
Vancouver , British Columbia , Canada

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Suicide, like many other health inequities, is unevenly distributed among the population, with marginalized groups being most affected. In Canada, suicide has been found to particularly affect gay and bisexual men, aboriginal people and people living in rural and remote communities.

While the populations affected by suicide are not mutually exclusive – for example someone can be a bisexual Aboriginal man living in a remote community – much of the suicide prevention literature tends to treat these groups as such. Moreso, very little attention is given in suicide prevention research to diversity within groups: for example, we know very little about which gay and bisexual men are most at risk of attempting suicide. This situation creates a vacuum of knowledge about suicide among gay and bisexual and deprives us of critical information for the development of effective suicide prevention activities.

We therefore investigated in a survey of Canadian gay and bisexual men (Sex Now Survey), which gay and bisexual men are at increased risk of reporting a recent suicide attempt. The large sample of gay and bisexual men with 8493 participants allows for this unique analysis focused on the multiple, intersecting identities of the survey participants.

Continue reading

Autism Spectrum Disorder Found To Be Highly Heritable

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Sven Sandin, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, NY 10029

D. Sandin

Sven Sandin, PhD Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, NY 10029 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In 2014, we estimated the heritability of autism to be approximately 50%. Motivating us then was the lack of studies in autism heritability using population based and the findings from a twin-study in California finding the heritability to be substantially lower than the 80-90% estimated in previous studies. Since then continued efforts working with the questions on heritability and environmental factors for autism we found differences between different methods and different samples. When we went back to our previous data we found the heritability of autism to be higher than previously estimated. We found that our previous result was due to a methodological artifact where the adjustment for differences in follow-up used in that manuscript underestimated the heritability. Using methods used in other heritability studies the heritability is now estimated to 84%. Importantly, as previously concluded, there is no support for any ‘shared environmental factors’ in the etiology of autism, e.g. environmental factors shared between two siblings.

Continue reading

Parasitic Infection With Toxoplasmosis May Be Linked To Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s Disease

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Under a magnification of 900X, this hematoxylin and eosin-stained (H&E) photomicrograph of a brain tissue specimen revealed a case of neurotoxoplasmosis in a patient who had also been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Note the Toxoplasma gondii tissue cyst, within which bradyzoites could be seen developing. CDC Image

Rima McLeod, M.D., F.A.C.P, F.I.D.S.A
Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences,Pediatrics (Infectious Diseases), and The College,
Director, Toxoplasmosis Center,
Senior Fellow,Institute of Genomics, Genetics and Systems Biology, Member, Commitees on Immunology, and Molecular Medicine and Pathogenesis,
Member Global Health Center, Affiliate CHeSS;
Attending Physician, Chicago Medicine,
The University of Chicago

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

* One third of humans are infected lifelong with the brain-dwelling, protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii.
* Approximately fifteen million of these have congenital toxoplasmosis.
* The parasite interconverts between slow-growing, encysted bradyzoites and rapid-growing tachyzoites.
* In mice, T. gondii creates a chronic intra-neuronal infection and an inflammatory process.
* Mice with acute and chronic infection have alterations in neurotransmitters, memory, seizures, and neurobehavior.
* Some epidemiologic-serologic studies show associations between seropositivity for T. gondii and human neurologic diseases, for example, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
* Although neurobehavioral disease is associated with seropositivity, causality is unproven.
* Serologic studies of humans with diverse genetics are not optimal to detect strong associations or directionality.
* Epidemiologic associations also do not reveal parasite-modulated gene networks in human brain that could provide insights into how to cure and prevent resultant diseases.
* We need integrative approaches to examine relationships between brain parasitism and other brain diseases, to provide a foundation to identify key pathways and molecules for drug and vaccine design
* To address these problems, we considered two central questions: (i) If chronic brain parasitism associates with other neurologic diseases, what are they? And (ii) Which macromolecular networks are modulated by the parasite in human brain that lead to neuropathology which could underpin and facilitate design of treatments?
* We hypothesized that a systems approach integrating multiple levels of host parasite interactions might resolve these questions.
* To better understand what this parasite does to human brains, we performed a comprehensive systems analysis of the infected brain.  Continue reading

OCD Not Associated With Above-Average Intelligence

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Amitai Abramovitch, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Psychology Texas State University

Dr. Abramovitch

Amitai Abramovitch, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Texas State University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is associated with moderate degree of underperformance on several cognitive tests such as processing speed, and some higher order functions such as planning and inhibition. While this does not constitute a clinically meaningful impairment on these functions, we set out to explore the prevailing myth that OCD is associated with above-average intelligence. This myth, that was propagated by Sigmund Freud 115 years ago and is still surprisingly all too prevalent –  was never tested empirically. The notion of above average intelligence in OCD didn’t make sense to us given that IQ tests are comprised of subtests that assess cognitive function. To test this, we collected all the available data ever published in the scientific literature regarding IQ in OCD versus control samples, and conducted a meta-analysis. Our results show that OCD is not associated with higher IQ than average. In fact we found a slightly lowered IQ in OCD compared to controls, although IQ scores for OCD samples were in the average range. The total IQ score (Full Scale IQ) is comprised of two subscales, namely Verbal IQ, and Performance IQ.

Our results show that reduced Full Scale IQ stems primarily from lowered Performance IQ, a scale that is comprised of a number of timed tests. In other words, as opposed to Verbal IQ tests, test scores on Performance IQ subtests rely heavily on performance within a specific time frame, and not only on performance accuracy.

Thus, our findings suggest that reduced processing speed found in OCD could lead to reduced Performance IQ, and subsequently lead to lowered Full Scale IQ, and may not be indicative of specific cognitive deficits. This finding suggests that IQ tests administered to individuals diagnosed with OCD may result in a biased Full Scale IQ scores that does not accurately reflect their full intellectual potential.

Continue reading

Childhood Tackle Football Linked To Increased Risk of Depression and Cognitive Issues In Adulthood

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Michael Alosco, PhD NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease & CTE Center Boston University School of Medicine 

Dr. Alosco

Michael Alosco, PhD
NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow
Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease & CTE Center
Boston University School of Medicine 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: TThe goal of this study was to investigate whether playing youth tackle football, particularly before the age of 12, is associated with worse emotional, behavioral, and cognitive difficulties later in life. Participants in this study included 214 former amateur and professional American football players who were part of the LEGEND study at Boston University. Participants had an average age of 51. 43 played high school football, 103 played college football, and there were 68 professional American football players. The former players were divided into two groups: those who began playing tackle football before age 12 and those who began at age 12 or older. Participants received telephone-administered cognitive tests and completed online measures of depression, behavioral regulation, apathy, and executive functioning, such as initiating activity, problem-solving, planning, and organization. Results from former players who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 were compared to those of participants who started playing at age 12 or later.

The study showed that participation in tackle football before age 12 increased the odds for having problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive functioning by two-fold and increased the odds for clinically elevated depression scores by three-fold. These findings were independent of the total number of years the participants played football or at what level they played, such as high school, college, or professional. Even when a specific age cutoff was not used, younger age of exposure to tackle football corresponded with worse clinical status.

Continue reading