Tag Archives: therapy

Researchers successfully use viruses to clear years-old, antibiotic-resistant infection

Drug-resistant bacteria are a very concerning, and growing, threat. Now researchers at the Erasmus Hospital, Belgium, are working to recruit viruses in our fight against them.

Stylized bacteriophages. Image via Pixabay.

The researchers report successfully treating an adult woman, who was infected with drug-resistant bacteria, using a combination of antibiotics and bacteriophages (bacteria-killing viruses). Such experiments are the product of several decades’ worth of research into the use of bacteriophages in humans. The results are encouraging and could pave the way towards such viruses having a well-established role in the treatment of drug-resistant bacteria.

Viral helpers

The patient had been severely injured by the detonation of a bomb during a terrorist attack. She suffered multiple injuries, including one to her leg, that damaged it down to the bone. After surgery to have some of the tissue removed, she developed a bacterial infection on the leg. The bacteria responsible was Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is known to be resistant to antibiotics. It also creates biofilms that physically insulate affected areas from antibiotics.

Doctors tried to clear the infections, with no success, for several years. Left with no other options to try, her medical team suggested bacteriophage therapy, which they performed with assistance from researchers at the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi.

Bacteriophage therapy is not in medical use today as there are still concerns around the safety of using such viruses to treat humans with already-weakened immune systems, and many unknowns regarding when and how to best employ them.

To employ a bacteriophage in this role, one must be found that attacks the exact strain of bacteria that causes the infection. The researchers carried out a thorough search and testing process, and eventually found a suitable virus in a sample of sewer water. This was then isolated and grown in the lab, mixed into a liquid solution, and applied directly to the site of the infection. At the same time, the patient was put on a heavy antibacterial regimen.

Although it took three years of treatment, the patient is now free of the infection and able to walk again.

The team notes that their results showcase that such approaches can be effective treatment options when other avenues fail. However, they also explain that a better way of finding suitable bacteriophages must be developed before these interventions become viable in a practical sense. It simply takes too much time and effort to perform this search the same way the team did here for hospitals to realistically do this for multiple patients. There are currently no guarantees that a suitable virus will be found even if such a search is performed, as well.

The paper “Combination of pre-adapted bacteriophage therapy and antibiotics for treatment of fracture-related infection due to pandrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae,” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.


New app could bring cognitive therapy to your pocket

Researchers at the McLean Hospital are working to make it so that individuals with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions receive on-demand cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBM-I) through a simple app. It is a way to change mental habits without visiting a therapist.


Image credits Jan Vašek.

CBM-I is a class of interventions that are used to shift an individual’s perception of certain situations. In effect, it plays on our own perception biases, which are linked to several different types of mental disorders. The team behind this study analyzed the viability of combining CBM-I with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for the treatment of psychiatric disorders and whether or not this approach can be used outside a hospital setting.

We have an app for that

“CBM-I tries to address […] a mental habit that is implicated in many mental disorders,” says Courtney Beard, Ph.D., director of McLean’s Cognition and Affect Research and Education (CARE) Laboratory and lead author of the paper. It is comprised of “a class of interventions designed to shift people’s interpretations of ambiguous situations in either a more positive or more negative way.”

One of the approaches involved in CBM-I treatments is presenting patients with a series of word association questions regarding everyday scenarios. For example, a patient could be presented with a conversation in which one person was yawning, then asked if that individual was “tired” or “bored”. If they pick “tired”, they are told they are correct; if they say “bored,” they are told they’re incorrect. Through repetition, this type of CBM-I therapy helps the person reframe or reassess these daily ambiguous situations.

“People face countless interactions like this every day in their lives,” Beard said. “If you have a tendency to jump to a threatening or negative conclusion, it can have a huge impact on how you’re feeling and on what you do and how you react. You can get stuck in a cycle that can maintain anxiety or depression.”

For their study, Beard and her colleagues implemented and mixed the two treatment types together in a partial hospital setting. They presented patients with word-sentence associations that encouraged patients to endorse positive interpretations and reject negative interpretations. The results showed that CBM-I was well received by acute psychiatric patients and that it improved their response to treatment. Many of the patients, the team explains, stated that CBM-I helped bolster their primary (CBT-based) care. The word association exercises also helped the patients reframe (and thus better manage) negative situations.

Based on these results, Beard and her team are moving forward with a National Institute of Mental Health-backed study to develop a smartphone version of the treatment.

“With the smartphone app, we can offer CBM-I to many more people at one time,” Beard said. “They can practice new skills, create healthy mental habits, and stop automatically jumping to negative conclusions. And they can do it on demand.”

This app could be particularly helpful for people who have just been discharged from a treatment program, she adds.

“They can use it during the month transition period after they leave the hospital, which is a risky and challenging time for them,” she said. “It quickly shows people what their brain is doing. The patient sees hundreds of situations in a short amount of time.”

“So, they see how often they jumped to a negative conclusion, and that can be very powerful. It’s kind of like cognitive therapy in your pocket — but a little different and a lot faster,” she concludes.

The paper “Translating CBM-I Into Real-World Settings: Augmenting a CBT-Based Psychiatric Hospital Program” has been published in the journal Behavior Therapy.

Salmonela phage.

New U.S. Center to research how viruses can help us overcome drug resistance

In a bid to fight drug-resistant infections, one group of U.S. researchers is trying to include bacteria-munching viruses on our list of available treatments.

Salmonela phage.

Salmonela phage PA13076.
Image credits microbiologybytes / Flickr.

Amid the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and the string of outbreaks in recent years — most notably the Ebola virus in Africa, Zika in South America, and the Nipah virus outbreak in India — it may feel like everything microscopic is out to get us. But fret not: nature doesn’t discriminate; there’s something to infect everything under the sun.

One group of researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) plans to cash in on this by using bacteria-hunting viruses — phages — to knock out drug-resistant infections, the university reported recently.

The enemy of my enemy

The initiative stems from the efforts of UCSD researchers who 2 years ago used phages to save a colleague’s life. In 2015, UCSD psychologist Tom Patterson was hospitalized after a drug-resistant strain of the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii invaded his pancreas during a vacation in Egypt. Antibiotic treatment failed and Patterson fell into a coma. His wife, UCSD epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee, launched an international effort to find the right phage to cure him — and, using strains donated by biotech AmpliPhi Biosciences, Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Navy, she did.

Building on that success, the team wants to expand the use of phage therapy in the U.S. Phages are naturally-occurring strains of viruses that live in all sorts of environments and prey on bacteria. They’re really, really good at killing bacteria, much more so than any antibiotics we’ve developed. They’re also single-minded in their purpose, and phage therapy has little to no side effects. However, it’s not flawless: each phage targets only a specific strain of bacteria — so actually using them as a treatment means sifting through millions of strains to find the one that works.

Patterson received some of the phages intravenously — considered to be a risky option, as toxins produced by bacteria used to grow the phages could linger in the mixture. The team’s success in Petterson’s case helped cement their belief that phage therapy can bring an important contribution to modern medicine.

Past pushes towards phage therapy across the globe, however, have fared quite poorly, and the approach isn’t widely considered as a viable treatment path. Phages’ ability to attack a single strain at a time is what gave researchers the most trouble and, for many, signaled that it’s simply not worth pursuing. Previous phage clinical testing, such as an EU-sponsored trial known as PhagoBurn, haven’t been very successful — in part because it focused on treating burn wounds, which typically involve several strains of bacteria. Still, there were some encouraging results regarding phage therapy, mostly from centers in Georgia and Poland. In the context of rising antibiotic-resistance, a few U.S. companies and research centers have also started reconsidering phage therapy.

Since Patterson’s recovery, the UCSD team has successfully cleared infections in five more people with phage cocktails under a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process designed for emergencies where no approved treatments are available. However, these are anecdotal evidence, and any phage therapy that has the slightest hope of getting FDA approval needs reliable evidence that it’s safe and effective. That kind of evidence can only be brought to bear following structured clinical trials.

The team hopes their new center will help provide such evidence. A first in North America, the center will initially consist of 16 UCSD researchers and physicians. It will launch with a 3-year, $1.2 million grant from UCSD. Christened the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics (IPATH), it won’t manufacture any phage treatments itself but will collaborate with academia and companies on clinical trials. Initially, IPATH will focus on treating patients suffering from chronic drug-resistant infections related to organ transplants, implanted devices (e.g. pacemakers or joints), and cystic fibrosis.

The trials to be carried out at IPATH will also draw wisdom from past failures with phage therapy. Most notably, it will focus on patients infected with a single (and known) bacterial strain. While it may be difficult to tease out the effects of phage therapy alone (as these patients are undergoing antibiotic treatment, and discontinuing them isn’t an option) the team expects phage therapy to eventually be used in tandem with antibiotics.

One of the main hurdles IPATH collaborators will have to overcome is that current drug approval systems just aren’t suited to accommodate phage therapy. They’re meant to estimate single compounds that can affect patients more or less equally — phage therapy, on the other hand, requires mixes of viruses that need to be tailored for each individual. One potential workaround to this issue would be to get approval for an entire library of phages from which doctors can later create custom treatments. In the meantime, the UCSD team plans to keep securing phages for individual cases under FDA’s emergency pathway, Strathdee says.

Michale Jackson was verbally and physically abused as a child by his father. Jackson went into detail on several occasions, including in the famous BBC special with Martin Bashir. Credit: CoS.

Performing artists with a history of childhood adversity have more intense creative experiences

Michale Jackson was verbally and physically abused as a child by his father. Jackson went into detail on several occasions, including in the famous BBC special with Martin Bashir. Credit: CoS.

Michale Jackson was verbally and physically abused as a child by his father. Jackson went into detail on several occasions, including in the famous BBC special with Martin Bashir. Credit: CoS.

It’s no secret that many people going through a rough time or with a history of traumatizing experiences often interact with some kind of creative outlet. This catharsis makes helps us cope with adversity, providing an escape from the harsh realities of life.

There seems to be evidence of a strong connection between childhood adversity and seeking out artistic solace, according to a new study which found performing artists with such a history have more intense creative experiences.

The study was conducted by Paula Thompson and Victoria Jaque, two psychologists at the California State University and York University, Toronto, respectively. Writing in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the pair describes childhood adversity as “any exposure to abuse (emotional, physical, sexual), neglect (emotional, physical), and/or family dysfunction (parental separation/divorce, family member with mental illness and/or substance abuse, domestic violence, and family member imprisoned).”

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, at least 40 million children are abused each year around the world. Such studies provide useful trends about child abuse in the general population, but there have been limited studies focusing on performing artist samples.

Previously, childhood adversity and past trauma have been linked with intrusive emotional mental imagery, which may compromise general performance levels and increase anxiety.

In the new study, researchers interviewed 83 actors, directors, and designers, 129 dancers, along with 20 musicians and opera singers regarding the adversity they faced in childhood but also about their creative process. An example of a question from the survey is “Did a parent or other adult in the household often…Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? Yes/No.” 

At the beginning of the study, the researchers hypothesized that more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) “would be related to increased psychological difficulties (anxiety, shame, exposure to adult traumatic events) and decreased positive creative and performance flow experiences.”

The results indeed indicate that more ACEs are associated with experiencing more fantasy proneness, shame, and anxiety. Performing artists also experienced significantly higher rates of emotional abuse and neglect than people with ACEs from a previous study. However, the participants also tended to report more intense creative and existential experiences.

“Significant differences were found for the following factors: distinct experience, absorption, and transformation, with the high exposed performers endorsing more creative intensity compared to performers with minimal or no childhood adversity,” wrote the authors of the new study.

The findings suggest that performing artists with four or more types of ACEs are more aware of the creative process. In other words, thanks to negative emotional history, and not despite it, performing artists seem to be more able to recognize and value the creative process. For instance, the performers in the high ACE group were “more aware of a loss of a sense of self, a greater sense of contact with a force beyond themselves, greater emotional intensity that coexisted with emotional stability, a heightened awareness of technical and expressive abilities, and increased spiritual awareness during the creative process,” according to the researchers.

This heightened creative focus is an important spiritual and healing component in the performer’s life, giving them a sense of purpose.

“Engaging in the creative process offers meaning and a deeper sense of a connected self despite experiencing childhood adversity. The need to encourage creative activities in educational and work settings offers a powerful antidote to potential devastating physical and psychological effects associated with childhood adversity,” Thomson told PsyPost.

“We are saddened by the number of participants in our study who have suffered multiple forms of childhood adversity as well as adult assaults (both sexual and non-sexual). So many participants in our sample have experienced poly-traumatization and yet they also embrace their passion for performance and creativity. They are embracing ways to express all that is human.”

In the future, the researchers plan to investigate if there’s any association between a history of trauma and the physical health of artists.

LSD changes the way the brain reacts to music, study finds

Researchers have discovered how LSD changes the neural response to music in various brain regions associated with memory, emotion, auditory processing, and self-directed thought.

“I have always been fascinated by emotion, memory, and altered states of consciousness. To this end, I completed my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at UC Davis with Petr Janata, using computational models of music cognition to study the neural basis of emotions and memories evoked by music,” stated study author Frederick Barrett of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to Psypost.

After thinking about how natural and intimate the connection between music and psychedelic subjective experiences is, the author wanted to understand the way psychedelics alter how the brain processes music.

So, he contacted University of Zürich’s Dr. Katrin Preller and Dr. Franz Vollenweider who conducted a study of the effects of LSD on meaning-making while listening to music. Barrett inquired about a collaboration and was met with a positive reply, receiving permission to analyze the imaging data collected during music listening sessions after administration of LSD.

Preller and Vollenweider surveyed 25 healthy participants about songs that had a special meaning for them. Next, the participants listened to personally meaningful songs and non-meaningful songs after receiving LSD or a placebo. They discovered that non-meaningful songs gained a sense of meaningfulness under the influence of LSD. The results increased scientists’ understanding of how personal relevance is attributed in the brain.

Berret and his team conducted a secondary analysis of the fMRI scans from the first study. They found that LSD changed the neural response to music in a number of brain areas, including the superior temporal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, medial prefrontal cortex, and amygdala.

“Music can evoke a wide range of emotions, memories, and other feelings and states of mind. We can often identify with music, and music can change the way that we feel about and think about ourselves,” Barrett said.

“In the same way, music also engages a broad range of brain regions involved in memory, emotion, attention, and self-directed thought. LSD increases the ​degree to which these brain areas process music, and it seems to use a brain mechanism that is shared across all psychedelic drugs,” he added.

Berret believes that the changes that occur in the brain when listening to music under the influence of LSD might actually be related to the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. But even though psychedelic drugs can be safely administered in a controlled setting, this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Let’s just remember — bad trips exist.

Scientists still have to understand the degree to which music and LSD are needed for successful therapy. They also have to determine why these elements sometimes lead to bad experiences and find a way to optimize music listening during psychedelic therapy sessions.

“Psychedelics are powerful drugs that hold promise to help us to heal, understand our brains and minds, and potentially uncover the elusive basis of consciousness itself,” Barrett added.

The paper was published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex.


Writing about your traumas in third person eases recovery. Photo credit: culturestrike.net

Writing about your trauma in third person helps recovery

Writing about your traumas in third person eases recovery. Photo credit: culturestrike.net

Writing about your traumas in third person eases recovery. Photo credit: culturestrike.net

Writing your memoirs or simply recollecting traumatizing memories in writing has been used as tool in therapy for many years now. A new study by researchers at University of Iowa  found that switching to writing in third person eases recovery and improves health of participants.

Whether it’s a car accident, the death of someone close, surgery, illness, or even financial collapse, traumatic events can trigger a barrage of challenging emotions. Writing about trauma and the emotions it triggers in you can help you to put things into perspective and soothe some of your fears. That’s why therapists often advise keeping a journal and basically get traumatizing thoughts out of your head and onto paper. For some, this form of catharsis rends promising results.

He was writing his memories

Psychologists at University of Iowa found, however, that writing in third person leads to  greater health gains for participants who struggled with trauma-related intrusive thinking, as measured by the number of days their normal activities were restricted by any kind of illness.

So, instead of writing “I am worried by cancer will come back” or “I crashed the car on the freeway”, re-phrasing as “She was worried her cancer would come back” or “She crashed the car” would be better. The researchers’ analysis found that people suffering from high levels of intrusive thinking can yield higher benefits if they express their trauma in third-person.

“Third-person expressive writing might provide a constructive opportunity to make sense of what happened but from a safe distance that feels less immediate and threatening,” says Matthew Andersson, a graduate student in social psychology at the University of Iowa and a co-author on the study.

The results were reported in a paper published in the journal Stress and Health.


Novel treatment may cure people’s phobias during sleep


(c) Nature

We sleep for roughly a third of our lifetime. All complex organisms sleep, one way or the other, and clearly this is a highly important aspect of biological functioning, otherwise nature wouldn’t had allow it. Oddly enough, we still know very little about what happens during sleep and it’s key functions. For one, it’s been proven that sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation. As such, active manipulation during sleep phase can turn up some very interesting outcomes, which is why scientists, psychologists in particular, are exploring ways of accessing sleep mechanisms. A novel research by researchers at Northwestern University, for instance, have shown that it is possible to calm fears during sleep – the first time emotional memory has been manipulated in humans during sleep.

Omlette du fromage

Previously, it was shown that things like spatial and motor sequence learning can be enhanced during sleep through various stimuli. Concrete concepts like quotes or stories can’t be relayed effectively, however, to a sleeping person. You might have heard of so called sleep-learning techniques typically involving playing a recording while you sleep. In a famous episode from the animated series “Dexter’s Laboratory” Dexter wants to learn French fast without wasting time during wake time when he was more important things to do, like inventing. So he plays a French for dummies class in his headphones while he sleeps; the records slips however so the phrase “omlette du fromage” keeps looping back and forth all night. Consequently, the next day the only thing he can say is …. “omlette du fromage”. The phrase is the only thing he can utter, but soon enough it lands him fame and stardom. It’s an extremely entertaining episode and I had loads of fun watching it when I was a kid. Sleep-learning has been shown to be nothing but rubbish quite early since the 1960’s, though. Basically, when your asleep the brain is tuned to fundamentally different frequencies than when you’re conscious and able to absorb outside information – nothing passes through, unless you’re just about to be awake. This window is so short-lived that it’s been deem impractical to actively receive information from the outside during sleep, let alone learn to speak French.

Subtle stimuli can however influence a sleeper. In the Northwestern study, 15 subjects were presented with two different, but neutral faces. One of the faces, however, induced fear to the participants. When the said picture was viewed, a mild electrical shock was applied to the participant while an odor was also released so the face and the smell became associated. Subjects received different odorants to smell with each face such as woody, clove, new sneaker, lemon or mint. To avoid bias, an odor was released when viewing the non-fear inducing face as well.

While the participants was asleep, one of the two odors was released, absent the electrical shock and, obviously, the face. This occurred during slow wave sleep when memory consolidation is thought to occur.

“While this particular odorant was being presented during sleep, it was reactivating the memory of that face over and over again which is similar to the process of fear extinction during exposure therapy,” Hauner said.

Exposure therapy aims to cure people’s phobias by basically confronting them directly with their fears. It can be very difficult at first for patients, but it does work. Typically, it’s made in steps. If you’re chronically afraid of clowns, a therapist might first show you some pictures, then play subtle clown-specific sounds, take you to see a circus from afar, before ultimately confronting you with a full-fledged clown.

Sleep on it

The results the Northwestern researchers had with their fear reducing therapy during sleeps seem to be similar to those of exposure therapy. When the subjects woke up, they were exposed to both faces. When they saw the face linked to the smell they had been exposed to during sleep, their fear reactions were lower than their fear reactions to the other face. This was measured in two ways: for one, the participants’ level of sweat release was measured – a physiological indicator of fear – and second fMRI scans were performed. The scans showed changes in regions associated with memory, such as the hippocampus, and changes in patterns of brain activity in regions associated with emotion, such as the amygdala. These brain changes reflected a decrease in reactivity that was specific to the targeted face image associated with the odorant presented during sleep.

“It’s a novel finding,” said Katherina Hauner, who did the research as a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We showed a small but significant decrease in fear. If it can be extended to pre-existing fear, the bigger picture is that, perhaps, the treatment of phobias can be enhanced during sleep.”

Could this technique be used effectively to treat real phobias gained in a life time, not just engineered ones? Hauner notes that real traumatic memories, especially very old ones, could be much more complicated to treat.”This is a very novel area,” she says. “I think the process has to be refined.”

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Magic mushroom drugs show promise in treating addiction and cancer anxiety

Labeled as a hallucinogenic drug and banned for decades after highly controversial results, research on the hallucinogen psilocybin is showing early promise in a new series of small, medicinal studies.

Magic mushrooms

There is significant evidence which suggests that psychoactive mushrooms have been used by humans in religious ceremonies for thousands of years; murals as old as 9000-11000 years old found in the Sahara area depict horned human-like beings holding mushroom-like objects. Parallel lines extend from the mushroom shapes to the center of the dancers’ heads – in a significant artistic detail. Similar interpretations were also given in ancient Spain and to the Maya people; all in all, it seems religious figures and psychoactive mushrooms have a pretty tight historical connection.

The lethal dose is almost unreachable – at about 280 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) and the mushrooms themselves cause no physical addiction. The effects greatly depend on the mindset the user has and the environment in which he ingests the mushrooms; after ingestion, typical effects include hallucinations, synesthesia, euphoria, but also disorientation, lethargy, and in about one third of subjects – paranoia. These are mainly the reason why such a treatment was mostly suggested for regular meetings, admissions, or inpatient residential care.

An unlikely drug

What’s interesting is that the Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances assigns psilocybin a relatively high therapeutic index of 641 (higher values correspond to a better safety profile); for comparison, the therapeutic indices of aspirin and nicotine are 199 and 21, respectively.

More recently, a number of studies have concluded that psilocybin could have valuable therapeutic effects in certain cases; a 2011 study showed it could be useful in treating anxiety and depression, and researchers are also better understanding the physiological effects it has on the brain.

Now, in a research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), scientists highlighted the latest findings on the use of psilocybin, as a treatment for anxiety and as an aid in smoking cessation and alcoholism.

Like previous psychedelic experimenters, today’s volunteers often report profoundly mystical experiences, but none of them reported any significant lasting negative effects. It’s still unclear if the related mystical experiences have anything to do with the positive effects.

“Nobody had a significant anxiety reaction or ‘bad trip,’” Grob reported, citing data he published in the Archives of General Psychiatry on the research in 2011.

However, he notes, it’s going to be a while before magic mushrooms are actually used to treat addiction.

“The potential beneficial effects of psilocybin on addiction is an important question that should [be] thoroughly explored. Nevertheless, it is important to sound a note of caution. Psilocybin is unlikely to be used to treat addiction. As with other hallucinogenic drugs, it can have worrying side effects such as psychological distress or even psychosis.”

But even so, psychedelic therapies are starting to sound more and more like a viable alternative to traditional therapies. As it turns out, LSD is also much more effective than the AA at treating alcoholism.

“Nevertheless, the renaissance in psilocybin research suggests that if we can understand the biological mechanisms underlying its therapeutic actions, then it may be possible to develop a new generation of drugs that lacks the notable hallucinogenic properties of psilocybin but that retains its beneficial effects. This assumes, of course, that the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of psilocybin can indeed be separated.”, he adds.

New Therapies for Impotent Men Possible: Experiments on Mice Show

Researchers at the world famous US-based Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have claimed to have unlocked the “biochemical chain of events” behind maintaining penile erection. They are confident that their discovery in mice with some herbs now underway may lead to new therapies for the suffering male population.


For two decades, scientists have known the biochemical factors that trigger penile erection, but not what’s needed to maintain one – in other words, this research won’t take erectile pills for erectile dysfunction off the market, but it provides valuable information about triggering erections. Now an article by Johns Hopkins researchers, published online recently by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uncovers the biochemical chain of events involved in that process.

“We’ve closed a gap in our knowledge,” says Arthur Burnett, M.D., professor of urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “We knew that the release of the chemical nitric oxide, a neurotransmitter that is produced in nerve tissue, triggers an erection by relaxing muscles that allow blood to fill the penis. We thought that was just the initial stimulus. In our research, we wanted to understand what happens next to enable that erection to be maintained.”

In a study of mice, Burnett and his colleagues found a complex positive feedback loop in the penile nerves that triggers waves of nitric oxide to keep the penis erect. He says they now understand that the nerve impulses that originate from the brain and from physical stimulation are sustained by a cascade of chemicals that are generated during the erection following the initial release of nitric oxide.

“The basic biology of erections at the rodent level is the same as in humans,” he says. The key finding is that after the initial release of nitric oxide, a biochemical process called phosphorylation takes place to continue its release and sustain the erection.

In a landmark study published in the journal Science in 1992, Burnett and his Johns Hopkins co-author, Solomon S. Snyder, M.D., professor of neuroscience (who is also an author on the current study), showed for the first time that nitric oxide is produced in penile tissue. Their study demonstrated the key role of nitric oxide as a neurotransmitter responsible for triggering erections.

“Now, 20 years later, we know that nitric oxide is not just a blip here or there, but instead it initiates a cyclic system that continues to produce waves of the neurotransmitter from the penile nerves,” says Burnett.

With this basic biological information, it may be possible, according to Burnett, to develop new medical approaches to help men with erection problems caused by such factors as diabetes, vascular disease or nerve damage from surgical procedures. Such new approaches could be used to intervene earlier in the arousal process than current medicines approved to treat erectile dysfunction. In particular, Burnett says, ”

The target for new therapies would be the protein kinase A (PKA) phosphorylation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS). Now that we know the mechanism for causing the ‘activated’ form of nNOS in penile nerves, we can develop agents that exploit this mechanism to help with erection difficulties.”

One of the agents studied by the researchers was forskolin, an herbal compound that has been used to relax muscle and widen heart vessels. They found that forskolin also ramps up nerves and can help keep nitric oxide flowing to maintain an erection.

“It has been a 20-year journey to complete our understanding of this process,” says Snyder. “Now it may be possible to develop therapies to enhance or facilitate the process.” The new study, “Cyclic AMP Dependent Phosphorylation of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase Mediates Penile Erection,” was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In addition to Burnett and Snyder, the study article’s authors are K. Joseph Hurt from the University of Colorado, Sena F. Sezen, Gwen F. Lagoda and Biljana Musicki from Johns Hopkins, and Gerald A. Rameau from Morgan State University.//EOM//

Therapists still claim they “treat” homosexuality

Even though we claim to be living in the third millenium and we’ve “evolved” significantly from say, 50 years ago, there’s quite a number of people that think homosexuality is some sort of disease and should be taken care of. This lack of understanding and, most of all, tolerance leads to a whole number of related problems, including so-called therapists that can “treat” it. This comes just 2 days after the amazing doctor that performed brain surgery while having a heart attack, as if to balance it.

So a significant number of still give treatment that supposedly turns gay, lesbian and bisexual clients become straight, despite the fact that there is no evidence that it works; even more, it might actually be harmful for the patient’s health according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust published in BMC Psychiatry.

“There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person’s homosexual feelings is effective and in fact it can actually be harmful,” says Professor Michael King from UCL. “So it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients.”

Derek Munn, Director of Public Affairs at the gay and lesbian equality organisation Stonewall commented:

“So-called gay cure therapies are wholly discredited. The conclusions of this research are a welcome reminder that what lesbian and gay people need is equal treatment by society, not misguided treatment by a minority of health professionals.”

So after drawing the line what does that leave us with??

“The best approach is to help people adjust to their situation, to value them as people and show them that there is nothing whatever pathological about their sexual orientation,” King says. “Both mental health practitioners and society at large must help them to confront prejudice in themselves and in others.”

If you ask me, treating people for homosexuality is about as dumb as the picture below.