Brain stimulation may help bulimia symptoms

A 20-minute session of transcranial direct current stimulation transiently improves the symptoms of patients with bulimia nervosa, according to a UK study published in PLOS ONE. Bulimia nervosa is linked with changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in reward processing and self-regulatory control. While cognitive behavioural therapy is the gold standard for bulimia treatment, as many as half of all patients with bulimia who undergo it will still relapse into their eating disorders. The study authors conducted a small proof-of-principle study of brain stimulation, carrying out a double-blind, randomised controlled trial of 39 adults with bulimia (two males and 37 females). All participants received three 20-minute sessions of transcranial stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, with electrodes placed in 3 different configurations, namely anode right/cathode left (AR/CL), anode left/cathode right (AL/CR), and one sham where the stimulation lasted only 30 seconds. The order in which each participant received the treatments was randomised. Participants then self-reported their desire to binge eat, fear of weight gain, general mood, and frequency of bulimic behaviors in the 24 hours following treatment. The researchers found that the treatment compared to the sham was effective in lessening bulimia symptoms, at least immediately following the study. It also appeared that the optimal orientation of the electrodes was to have the anode on the right and the cathode on the left side of participants’ heads. The study did not exclude individuals with co-occurring mental disorders and the outcomes were self-reported. Future multisession trials could examine how long the effects lasted, and help determine the treatment’s potential as a therapy for bulimia nervosa.

Molecule shows potential to slow Parkinson’s

A naturally occurring molecule in the brain, when used as a therapy, may be key to stopping the progression of Parkinson’s disease, according to research out of the University of Technology Sydney, published in PLOS ONE. The potent anti-inflammatory effects of the molecule activin A, a growth factor, were shown in laboratory trials to offer protection against the loss of dopamine neurons, the brain cells that are destroyed in Parkinson’s disease. The researchers applied activin A into the brain of mice in laboratory tests and found beneficial effects. According to the authors “this study shows that activin A can slow loss of dopamine nerve cells, providing a possible approach to slowing the disease”. “An exciting aspect of our previous research is that we’ve shown the activin A molecule has the potential to trigger regeneration in the nervous system. It raises the question as to whether this could lead to a treatment that could also repair the damaged brain areas in Parkinson’s disease.”

Anxiety, depression may increase cancer deaths

Research out of the University of Sydney and University College London, suggests that higher levels of psychological distress (anxiety and depression) may be associated with an increased risk of death from certain cancers. The observational study, published in The BMJ, drew no firm conclusions about cause and effect, but the authors said their findings added to the growing evidence that psychological distress could have some predictive capacity for certain physical conditions. They analysed data from 16 studies (13 from England and three from Scotland), which started between 1994 and 2008. In total, 163 363 men and women aged 16 years or over, and free from cancer at the start of the study, were included. Psychological distress scores were measured using the general health questionnaire and participants were monitored for an average of 9.5 years. During this time, there were 4353 deaths from cancer. Several factors that could have influenced the results were taken into account, including age, sex, education, socio-economic status, body mass index, smoking and alcohol intake. Dr David Batty from University College London, the lead author, said: “After statistical control for these factors, the results show that compared with people in the least distressed group, death rates in the most distressed group were consistently higher for cancer of the bowel, prostate, pancreas and oesophagus and for leukaemia.” The authors said that this association may also be affected by reverse causality, where undiagnosed (early) cancer might have had an underlying impact on mood. In a bid to correct for this, they carried out a further analysis excluding study participants who died in the first 5 years of follow-up, but this made no difference to the findings – the links between distress and cancer remained.

Computer taught to pick skin cancer from photo

A new algorithm that classifies skin cancers from photos is described in an article published online in Nature. Researchers have tried to develop automated classification systems before, but this has been difficult because skin lesions vary greatly in appearance. Researchers from Stanford University and the National Cancer Institute in the US have overcome this problem by developing a deep-learning algorithm, which they trained using a dataset of over 129 000 images representing more than 2000 different skin diseases. They assessed the ability of the system to recognise both the most common and most deadly types of skin cancer — malignant carcinomas and melanomas, respectively — and found that the system performed on par with a group of 21 specialist clinicians. The authors cautioned that their system had yet to be validated in a real-world clinical setting, but its potential to affect primary care was extensive. The system could be extended to other areas, including ophthalmology, radiology and pathology, and if installed on mobile phones, it could offer low-cost, universal access to vital diagnostic care, they conclude.


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