Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

How Meditation Benefits The Brain

How Meditation Benefits The Brain

From the Medical News Today article, Tue Nov 22, 2011 13:00

A new brain imaging study led by researchers at Yale University shows how people who regularly practise meditation are able to switch off areas of the brain linked to daydreaming, anxiety, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. The brains of experienced meditators appear to show less activity in an area known as the “default mode network”, which is linked to largely self-centred thinking. The researchers suggest through monitoring and suppressing or “tuning out” the “me” thoughts, meditators develop a new default mode, which is more present-centred…
Read the entire article

November 23, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News, Psychology | , , | Leave a comment

MRI Shows Mind Over Matter May Really Diminish Pain

MRI Shows Mind Over Matter May Really Diminish Pain

From the April 8 Medical News Today item

Focus, zen, meditate and your pain may go away or diminish. A new MRI brain image study shows that just after a short period of meditation, pain intensity is weakened when subjected to unpleasent stimuli such as extreme heat.

The study participants were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention, which involves paying close attention to breathing patterns while acknowledging and letting go of thoughts that distract you.

Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, says:

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation.”…

….Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center News Release

 

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brain imaging provides window into consciousness

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...

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Brain imaging provides window into consciousness

Study uses fMRI scans to attempt communication with severely brain-injured patients, suggests cognitive functioning may not be recognized at bedside

[Editors note: My great uncle was in a coma for 10 years. His wife insisted that he was aware of his surroundings to some degree and could hear her.
We all just smiled and yes, Aunt Jenny…even though we agreed amongst ourselves that she was mistaken..Now I think she was probably right to a great degree]

From the February 25, 2011 Eureka news alert

NEW YORK (Feb. 25, 2011) — Using a sophisticated imaging test to probe for higher-level cognitive functioning in severely brain-injured patients provides a window into consciousness — but the view it presents is one that is blurred in fascinating ways, say researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the Feb. 25 online edition of the journal Brain.

In a novel study of six patients ranging in their function from minimally conscious state to the locked-in syndrome (normal cognitive function with severe motor impairment), the researchers looked at how the brains of these patients respond to a set of commands and questions while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They found there was a wide, and largely unpredictable, variation in the ability of patients to respond to a simple command (such as “imagine swimming — now stop”) and then using that same command to answer simple yes/no or multiple-choice questions. This variation was apparent when compared with their ability to interact at the bedside using voice or gesture.

Some patients unable to communicate by gestures or voice were unable to do the mental tests, while others unable to communicate by gestures or voice were intermittently able to answer the researchers’ questions using mental imagery. And, intriguingly, some patients with the ability to communicate through gestures or voice were unable to do the mental tasks.

The researchers say these findings suggest that no exam yet exists that can accurately assess the higher-level functioning that may be, and certainly seems to be, occurring in a number of severely brain-injured patients — but that progress is being made. [editors emphasis]

“We have to abandon the idea that we can rely on a bedside exam in our assessment of some severe brain injuries. These results demonstrate that patients who show very limited responses at the bedside may have higher cognitive function revealed through fMRI,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Nicholas D. Schiff, professor of neurology and neuroscience and professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College and a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

While progress has been made in elucidating the range of brain function in those who are severely injured, Dr. Schiff urges caution. “Although everyone wants to use a tool like this, fMRI is not yet capable of making clear measurements of cognitive performance. There will be a range of possible responses reflecting different capabilities in these patients that we have to further explore and understand,” he says.

The new study tested three levels of communication in steps that required increasing cognitive capacity, says Dr. Henning Voss, who is the study’s senior investigator and associate professor of physics in radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “While we could not unambiguously establish communication in these brain-injured patients, our research is helping us identifying problems specific to this patient population,” Dr. Voss says. “We got a clear picture about where and how to look for this kind of brain activity in response to certain commands.”

Ethical Imperative

“Thousands of people suffer debilitating brain injuries every year, and there is a clear ethical imperative to learn as much as possible about their ability to communicate,” says the study’s lead author, Jonathan Bardin, a third-year neuroscience graduate student at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“These findings caution us against giving too much weight to negative results and open our eyes to the diversity of responses one might expect from the wide-ranging group of severely brain-injured people,” he says.

The potential implications of these kinds of consciousness studies are significant, says co-author Dr. Joseph Fins, the E. William Davis, Jr., M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics, chief of the Division of Medical Ethics, and professor of medicine, professor of public health, and professor of medicine in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Beyond facilitating communication with these patients, these studies should communicate to society at large this population is worthy of our collective attention.

“A vast majority of severely brain injured patients around the country are receiving substandard care because they are improperly diagnosed, not given adequate rehabilitation, and often end up in nursing homes. We all want this to change,” adds Dr. Fins, who is also director of medical ethics and chairman of the ethics committee at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

fMRI Reveals Consciousness’s Complexity

The Weill Cornell study is a continuation of research into how fMRI can establish a line of communication with brain-injured patients in order to understand if they can benefit from rehabilitation, and to gauge their level of pain and other clinical parameters that would improve care and quality of life.

Research collaborators in Cambridge, England, and Liege, Belgium, published earlier demonstrations in 2006 and 2010 that severely brain-injured patients could respond to commands or questions. The present studies extend the earlier findings and represent an important confirmation of such measurements by independent scientists.

In the current study, the dissociations observed and the wide range of communication capacities in the patient subjects studied provide unique insights. In the first step, the six patients, as well as 14 control participants, were asked a command that formed the basis for further communication. The control volunteers were asked to imagine performing their favorite sports, the patients to imagine themselves swimming.

Then, in the three patients who could do this, and in all of the controls, the researchers asked them to use the same imagined activity to respond to one or two options in a simple two-part question. In the third multiple-choice task, they were shown a face card from a deck of playing cards, then asked to respond when either the face or suit of the card was named.

The scans showed a number of “dissociations” in these patients — “surprising instances in which patients’ imaging responses diverged from their behavior,” Bardin says.

One patient could generate the mental imagery but not use it to answer questions — although he could communicate accurately with gestures. Another patient, who can speak, could not carry out the mental imagery task. A third patient who could imagine swimming on command showed dramatically varied brain response patterns when tested over time.

“The patients participating in this study often have multiple or widespread brain injuries affecting not only local brain areas but the whole brain network on a wide scale,” Dr. Voss says. “Even if we knew precisely all the injuries involved in a subject, our still-limited understanding of the brain networks involved in communication makes it impossible to accurately predict remaining cognitive and communicative skills in many cases. If there is no normal communication possible, fMRI can reveal cognitive capacities on several levels.”

“This is a reality check, in essence, because there is a wide range of cognitive abilities in these patients, and the implications on the extreme ends of the spectrum are important,” Dr. Schiff says. “There are people whose personal autonomy is abridged because they don’t have a good motor channel to express themselves despite their clear mind and opinions and desires about themselves and the world. And there are people who are without cognitive capacity, but because there is a misinterpretation of what is possible, there is a willingness to hold out hope.

“Not all minimally conscious patients are the same, and not all patients with locked-in syndrome are the same,” Dr. Schiff says.

Going forward, the research group, along with others in the field, is planning a major multicenter trial of fMRI along with European and Canadian colleagues supported by The James S. McDonnell Foundation to better understand both its promise and limitation in gauging cognitive abilities in severely brain-injured patients.

 

 

 

 

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health care spending: Study shows high imaging costs for defensive purposes

Health care spending: Study shows high imaging costs for defensive purposes
Costs and frequency of defensive medicine in Pennsylvania

AAOS: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons® / American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons®

From the February 16, 2011 Eureka news alert

Nearly 35 percent of all the imaging costs ordered for 2,068 orthopaedic patient encounters in Pennsylvania were ordered for defensive purposes, according to a new study presented today at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

For many years now, some physicians have ordered specific diagnostic procedures that are of little or no benefit to a patient, largely to protect themselves from a lawsuit. Until now, however, efforts to actually measure defensive medicine practices have been limited primarily to surveys sent to physicians. Such surveys would simply ask whether or not that individual actually practiced defensive medicine.

“This is the first study we know of that looked at the actual practice decisions of physicians regarding defensive imaging in real time — prospectively done,” says John Flynn, MD.

Flynn, who is Associate Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that many lawsuits hinge on the plaintiff’s lawyer’s claim that the doctor should have ordered extra diagnostic testing. “And such a claim may be the driving force of so much of the defensive test ordering.”

According to Flynn, 72 orthopaedic surgeons, who are members of the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society, voluntarily participated in this study, which included some 2,068 patient encounters throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Most patients in this study were adults. The study found that 19 percent of the imaging tests ordered were for defensive purposes. Defensive imaging was responsible for $113,369 of $325,309 (34.8 percent) of total imaging charges for this patient cohort, based on Medicare dollars. The overall cost of these tests was 35 percent of all imaging ordered because the most common test was an MRI, an imaging test which costs more than a regular X-ray.

One piece of this problem to remember, Flynn says, is that the legal environment that drives physicians to order additional tests has an effect on patients too, in a way that involves more than costs. “Patients are sometimes put through tests that maybe otherwise would not be ordered.”

The finding from this research that surprised Flynn the most was that surgeons were more likely to practice defensively if they had been in practice for more than 15 years.

“This was counterintuitive,” he says. “I thought that young doctors would come out of medical school immediately after training, be less confident because they weren’t experienced, and order more defensive tests. Then, as they become more comfortable and confident after 10 or 20 years in practice, they would order many fewer tests.”

“In fact, the opposite was true. We found that — in Pennsylvania at least — a surgeon’s defensive nature gets worse over time. In this legal environment, orthopaedic surgeons order more imaging tests of a defensive nature, because over time they become more concerned that someone is going to second guess or sue them.”

Flynn says that medical liability awards typically are given because of the severity of a bad outcome, and not necessarily because of negligence. In fact, a May 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Studdert DM) showed that 37 percent of claims did not involve medical errors, and in 3 percent of claims, no injury occurred at all.

Flynn pointed to various studies that show that defensive medicine, in general, is quite prevalent. One such study in the June 2005 Journal of the American Medical Association (Studdert DM) reported that almost 93 percent of 824 physicians in Pennsylvania responding to a survey practiced defensive medicine.

“Ideally, as a next step, we would hope to try to get a broader national picture using this prospective practice audit methodology, so we could get a better sense of the true costs of defensive imaging in orthopaedics,” says Flynn.

“Ultimately, if you had doctors from multiple specialties — from OB/Gyn to Neurosurgery to Emergency Medicine — do this type of practice audit, you could accurately quantify how much of our nation’s healthcare resources are wasted on defensive medicine.”

 

 

 

 

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visualizing the Visual Data Explosion

Visualizing the Visual Data Explosion

This video about medical scans includes streaming video examples in these areas: forensics (virtual autopsies), cardiac surgery, physical examinations, and “cat” scans.

Other TED Ideas Worth Spreading health/medical related videos include

From a Dr Shock MD PhD blog item

Today medical scans produce thousands of images and terabytes of data for a single patient in mere seconds, but how do doctors parse this information and determine what’s useful? At TEDxGöteborg, scientific visualization expert Anders Ynnerman shows us sophisticated new tools — like virtual autopsies — for analyzing this myriad data, and a glimpse at some sci-fi-sounding medical technologies in development. This talk contains some graphic medical imagery (Editor’s note- This “disclaimer” is correct)

 

Related item from the Library of Contress

New LC Science Tracer Bullet: Forensic Sciences

Forensic science is the use of science to solve criminal cases. It can include the use of many disciplines, such as anthropology, biology, botany, chemistry, computer science, engineering, entomology, genetics, medicine, and toxicology.

This guide highlights the diversity of the scientific professions and disciplines used in investigations and provides sources on the general practice of criminalistics. Also included is information on ballistics, firearm examination, and scientific examination of documents.


February 16, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Educational Resources (High School/Early College(, Finding Aids/Directories, Health Education (General Public), Librarian Resources | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Research from MU Brain Imaging Center may lead to treatment of a variety of mental disorders

 

 

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

Research from MU Brain Imaging Center may lead to treatment of a variety of mental disorders

 

(image at right- animated image of MRI brain scan, starting at top of head)

From the January 25, 2011 Eureka news alert

COLUMBIA, Mo. – One of the first studies published from the University of Missouri Brain Imaging Center (BIC) gives researchers insight into the brain and memory and may provide researchers clues to treating a variety of debilitating disorders.

Nelson Cowan, director of the BIC and Curator’s Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, used the BIC’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce graphics that depict the structure and function of the brain during various mental tasks in an effort to understand abstract working memory. People use their abstract working memories to assign meaning when trying to recall facts – for example, when someone dials a set of phone numbers, their abstract memory brings forth an image of the person they are calling.

Previous studies identified an area of the brain responsible for holding abstract working memory, although it was assumed by some researchers to hold only visual information. At the BIC, Cowan found that this same part of the brain can hold auditory information as well. For example, when people hear “Jingle Bells” they relate it to the Christmas season and retain the meaning of the song temporarily.

“This research has given us better understanding of an area of the brain that may be affected in people with various learning disabilities, autism and schizophrenia,” said Cowan. “For example, recent research has shown that people with schizophrenia simply hold fewer items in their working memories, rather having an inability to disregard unimportant items, as previously thought. Thus, discovering more about working memory will enable scientists to better target schizophrenia, among other disorders.”

Cowan’s research will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and his related research on the childhood development of working memory has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1985.

The study is one of many research projects that are currently underway at the BIC.

For example, researchers from the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in the College of Human Environmental Sciences are studying the neurological effects of eating breakfast on obese people. That research team is also studying the effects of eating breakfast on working memory. Cowan said psychiatry researchers are studying the effects of medications on the brain, and researching addictive behaviors is enhanced by the BIC.

“The center enables us to conduct interdisciplinary research that can advance the field of psychology,” Cowan said. “Brain imaging makes our behavioral research more powerful because we can better understand the brain and how it functions during different activities and conditions.”

In addition, Nelson says the ability to do brain imaging makes grant proposals stronger. He says the facility attracts new faculty members and makes for better research.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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