Category: Research Efforts

Instantiation of incentive value and movement invigoration by distinct midbrain dopamine circuits (Saunders et. al)

Cool paper:

Instantiation of incentive value and movement invigoration by distinct midbrain dopamine circuits

Never stop reading! This paper is pretty representative of the research I’d like to be doing within the next several years. Haven’t finished reading it but am enjoying it & wanted to post here. I’m noticing that when research articles or readings are really tremendously exciting I come to ramble about them before actually finishing them.

The lead researcher on this study is a dude by the name of Benjamin T. Saunders. He got an undergrad degree from West Virginia University, a PhD at the University of Michigan, and then did some postdoc research at UCSF and then Johns Hopkins. He’s now opened a lab at the University of Minnesota that came to my attention via a random listserve email from the U of M. They’re doing cool stuff related to dopamine, reward, etc. & I want to keep track of it. The techniques they’ll be using in the lab (EG optogenetic signalling) are things I’ve read about in class but never really read about in real life. And if they’re doing it over at the U that makes me curious about going to take a look at their lab.

So what’s with distinct midbrain dopamine circuits? Why should we care?

 

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Tripping in context

Let’s say you’re sitting at a bar. You’re 1.5 drinks in: confidence blows in the sail of your diaphragm, smiles are beginning to seep from your cheeks, and the voice in your head informs your sad, previously sober-self: What the hell – I really can achieve my goals, and I really do take myself too seriously, and thank the lord for alcohol! We have to do this more often, you mopey fuck!” As GABA floats across the lanes of your head-highways your brain – rather, you – find yourself settling into a disorganized and disinhibited state of bliss. Euphoria is too complicated a word for a feeling this normal. You’re calm once more.

You’re alone in that sense. Somehow your eyes receive some brainspace from your nose, which has utterly hijacked your experience with an awful perfume smell. An older woman 2 seats over is the hare to your tortoise and the current colonizer of your nostrils. You see that she is already a walking (sitting) vessel for a bottle of wine. She orders another. Some song that your dad really likes plays on the bar speakers as you peek down at her right ankle. No mistaking the Louis Vuitton purse at her side, nor the 3 prescription bottles inside of it. Your background in medicine, druggery, and institutionalization have taught you about privacy, but being medication savvy, 3/4 of a second is all you need: notice that the pill bottles all look fresh but bear different logos: St. Paul Corner Drug, CVS, Walgreens Pharmacy. Citizen-healthy-voter you shouldn’t peek, shouldn’t judge, so you look away and try to mind your drink. Hospital-you sees the after-image of the bottles in your mind’s eye. Amphetamine, Xanax, Prozac. Yet another rich lady with a gaggle of doctors. A gaggle of neuroses, sure, and based on her medication choices she’s well aware of her own difficulties. The problem is, these medications shouldn’t be prescribed together. Any legitimate care provider would know not to prescribe an antidepressant with a benzo with a stimulant anywhere other than a college basement. The bartender asks if you want another – in the 1/2 second before answering you have a moment of sadness for all the doctors who are persecuted for prescribing. Yeah, America, blame the doctors for your kids taking adderall. Keep blaming the doctors for Prozac being ineffective. Keep blaming a bunch of debt-laden medical students for doing their best to please you. And then jump onto the next miracle cure, why don’t ya, until the next miracle cure fucks you up. And fuck wine, you think to yourself loudly. You try to remember that there’s no need to be judgmental. Even though you won’t ever relate to this lady she’s ruined your state of mind, which honestly isn’t her fault. So much for the calm.

Then, Grandma-Glamorous yells something that actually resonates: GOSH, I MEAN FOR A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WITHOUT MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER, NONE OF THESE ANTIDEPRESSANTS WORK ANY BETTER THAN LIFESTYLE CHANGES ! THEY SAID ON THE NEWS THAT THEY’RE USING THOSE MAGIC MUSHROOMS TO MAKE THE BLUES GO AWAY, HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? DOESN’T A LITTLE WOODSTOCK SOUND MORE FUN THAN WHINING? Fearfully, you almost glance down at her purse again to see if she’s carrying any tabs. She isn’t. What is this lady onto, anyways? She’s not like you: She’s never hallucinated (recreationally or clinically), she prefers medication over lifestyle changes, she drinks like a fish, and – despite her ability to rattle off study findings – appears completely medically irreverent. She’s also upper class and has uttered words supportive of the Trump administration. You wonder if she has a therapist and realize that it doesn’t really matter. She is a consumer and she wants what she wants what she wants. So how do these folks, abusive yet wary of all things prescription, come to love magic mushrooms?

What about the clinicians who are eager to publish? Their credibility requires that they not abuse medication, and that they be less wary of prescriptions. In fact, they must plunge headfirst into pharmacological interventions despite any wariness they experience. Their patients rely on it.

What about you? The nerdy, liberal-leaning undergrad? You have seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various prescription drugs. You’ve also seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various psychedelic drugs. You’ve also seen the benefits of both of these classes of drugs. So, let’s get serious.

What do psychedelics have to offer to the everyman? To the world of clinical psychiatry? Are psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, or MDMA beneficial for mental health? Are they harmful for mental health? How do their effects differ between younger and older people? Between men and women? Are these drugs more effective for people with diagnosed illnesses? Less effective? Dangerous? If I have major depressive disorder, and medications aren’t working for me, should I ask the young fella at the bar if he knows where to buy some shrooms?

 

 

On today’s episode of crowtalker

16 dorks sitting in a tree across the street from CVS (across Fairview)

Saw them yelling up there from my spot on the Grandview Grille stoop. Came over here next to the NiceRide bikes to have a closer looked. We yelled at each other for a bit:

 

caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw: 6 caws, high-pitched, was came often

cawww-cawww-cawwww: 3 caws, longer/slower, deeper & more prounounced

3 or 4 of the screamers were really bouncing, & their torsos bobbing & bopping looked like they were heaving each caw with all their strength. Really neat to see. The eensy weensie ittie bittie branches atop the tree where they sat absolutely rocked as the screamers dedicated their entire abdomens towards crow-calling

After 10 minutes they all took off in unison, headed north/northwest. Fun stuff.

As I type this, I hear 3 more caws from a single crow. I look up – a pair of them have re-entered the eensy wensie ittie bittie branch zone

When I looked up just there, they left. For some reason I feel or expect that there should be more crows up there, lingering silently. Maybe there are but I can’t see them

 

Do you cry after caffeine intake?

I do. It’s weird

Coffee is a devilish drug with a tendency to cultivate dependence and craft caffeinated chains between itself and the user. As I type this I’m maybe a few ounces (probably 30-50mg of caffeine) into a cup of coffee &, as often happens, I started crying in what totaled to a brief 10-second spurt. Playing on my mental radio was a sudden dialogue with a formless stranger about how beautiful my cats are, how grateful for them, etc. An image of myself much older came to mind; I was seeing an old picture of the cats and hadn’t seen that old picture in some time and I was crying tears of gratitude.

This mental trip took place in less than 4-5 seconds, was profound, colorful, and detailed, and took me straight out of the room I was sitting in. There was a glowy feeling of being decades older and shown these gorgeous pictures of these gorgeous cats. It was less a thought process and more of a vision or fleeting headline on the newsreel of my frontal lobes.

It immediately passed and I felt funny for having had the experience yet again. Self aware, un-emotional, and nonreactive to what had just occurred. This type of thing occurs very often after coffee but it was quite some time before I realized that. I thought I was the type of person who had an early morning cry session, or a few chaotic ones (always of about 10-20 seconds maximum) but the link with caffeine became clear after a long period of daily journaling. Will post an excerpt soon but just wanted to leave this note here for myself later. With that said, I’m off to finish this coffee

Man’s best friend vs. Malignant Glioma

Easily the coolest research I’ve cut up & snorted in a while. 

It is commonplace to be forcefed research and ideas that are popular and meaningful. Neither popularity though meaning, however, make a given project or consideration in academia practical in the real world. In my experience it is rare to taste research and ideas that are practical. Past that point it is nearly impossible to come across research and ideas that are practical, simple, and clearly overlooked. A lovely bit of writing came up lately that seemed immediately worth reading, considering, and sharing. The fact that is is (all at once) so practical, so simple, and so clearly overlooked gripped me and hasn’t released my wandering, daydreaming self since the moment I printed this paper off some weeks ago. There’s always 10 motherfuckers out there trying to start a new conversation for every 1 team of people hoping to resolve, clean up, or challenge an old one. My response to this early quote was of feeling like these authors were bringing some serious love and professionalism to old conversations:

The framework of this study originated from the desire to explore and combine non-conventional modalities to overcome the limitations of conventional methodologies

It’s rude of me to be offering quotes without offering the paper. You probably won’t print it off and carry it with you for weeks (especially if you didn’t download the .pdf from the link above yet…….) but here’s a reminder of the title

The Effect of Pet Therapy and Artist Interactions on Quality of Life in Brain Tumor Patients: A Cross-Section of Art and Medicine in Dialog (published 2018)  

 

This paper is directly helpful to people. The authors explore the application of pet therapy and art therapy (or, more simply, pets and art) to health-related quality of life – HRQoL – in patients diagnosed with malignant gliomas. In laymen’s term a malignant glioma is a terminal brain tumor, with a median survival time of less than 2 years after diagnosis. This is notable given that many other diseases can be significantly slowed in their course or even eliminated with the best treatments available today. The early claim by the authors is that the traditional goals of medicine are survival and disease-free survival. They go on to assert that traditional medicine does not tend to the needs of those who will not survive and are disease-ridden or terminally ill, and that there are (presumably unexplored) means for improving HRQoL. Though there is perhaps an anecdotal, personal, or folk account for this shortcoming in traditional medicine we should not proceed in reading this paper without questioning this starting point. Many of us will have experiences in healthcare – from birth to the beyond – that are more wholesome, more forward-thinking, and already aware or attuned to the loving tools described in this paper. It would not serve the reader (in my opinion) to get ahead of themselves and act as if traditional medicine has never been aware of how art, pets, or ‘art therapy/pet therapy’ assist HRQoL, including during the process of dying.

With that said let’s stop with a few questions worth pondering. If they make any sense (or if they don’t), jot these down, carry them around, digest them, disagree with yourself, repeat. Google whatever doesn’t make sense. It’s worth it:

In this paper, we describe our unique study that was designed to address two critical questions: (1) can pet therapy in the outpatient setting help improve HRQoL of brain tumor patients? and (2) can patient’s facial expression be used as a proxy measure for their overall HRQoL?

Insulin

Is neat.

Once I had an experience helping a kid at a debate tournament take his insulin. It was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever experienced, for a number of reasons.

How to explain this. Hm.

For starters, I have no idea what debate tournaments are about. Or what debate is really about. I have never debated, participated in Mock Trial, or even witnessed a formal debate (let alone participated in or witnessed a formal debate tournament) (let alone judged one). And somehow, despite that, this story begins with my traveling to a nearby city to judge a high-school debate tournament. A friend asked if I could stand-in as a judge for a debate tournament because he thought I’d do an OK job. Something to do with me being great at arguing with him – it seemed, well….Weird. Having agreed, and having dragged myself to a random school somewhere in MN on a Saturday in November, I found myself in a large cafeteria with hundreds of suit-clad kids. I was chilly. There were cans of soda, powerades, and bottled waters to drink. Everything smelled really clean and like it had been freshly vacuumed. Again, weird.

The debates around the school were timed. Lincoln-Douglas in their style, and seemingly extreme in their demands, these mini-events had (via some sort of career-scented tractor beam) pulled in the young professionals of tomorrow from all over the country. A ton of school buses sat outside. It was all honestly pretty intimidating. A handful of color-coded maps each depicted the locations and times of the dozens of debate events. During the middle period of the day (just during/after lunch) perhaps 95% of the kids ran off for their respective debates, leaving the cafeteria entirely empty. It’s (again,) weird how loud hundreds of suit-clad kids can be and how quiet a large linoleum can be once they filter out. One kid, munching down on his food some 5 or 6 tables over, remained after just a few minutes.

I was sipping on some blue powerade as the sound of a small body vomiting smacked my ears with baseball-type force. Again. A third time. My hand quivered and my stomach fell across my shoes (not literally) upon hearing it – vomiting really isn’t my thing – and I pitied whichever person, likely that kid some 5 or 6 tables over, was having the gut attack. As a younger person I was on the swim and cross country and track teams and hated more than anything to take a bus out to a competition. The feeling of sitting in a foreign school around 11:14am on a weekend, waiting to be judged against my peers, wrung out my stomach like a sock each time. So I could feel this kid’s pain – a fourth time – and, after he puked a fifth time, I began to get concerned. I remember thinking Five is a fuck-ton.

On turning around to face the bright cafeteria – there were skylights, and the place had an even and frosty glow – I saw the young boy aforementioned gripped to a garbage can for dear life. The garbage can was the rolling kind, with 4 wheels and a height of maybe 3 feet 6 inches. He was small and appeared to be on his heels as wretch-fest #6 commenced. His diaphragm and entire upper body lurched, as if some invisible tentacles were sucking him violently into the garbage can. Fuck: this was no nausea or performance anxiety. Something was seriously wrong. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Another thing I remembered from childhood was my sincere desire to be left alone whenever I was vomiting. How to approach while also giving the kid his necessary space?

Cornering my body a bit (rather than facing the kid square on) I edged up slowly, waving timidly with a hand and offering a bashful and solemn ‘hey’ of a smile. He made eye contact with me as the tentacles gripped him and tugged again. “Hey dude, just so you know I’m Ian and I’m an EMT, so if you need anything lemme know, and if you want me to leave you alone I c-“

“I’m type 1, my last A1C was fine but I’m at least over 300 right now and my pump is broken. Can you help me? (pukes)

[translation: I have type 1 diabetes and am having a blood sugar crisis. My last check-up at the doctor’s was ok. But right now my blood sugar is dangerously high and my insulin pump, which I need to fix my blood sugar, is broken.]

Before continuing this story I figure I’ll leave you with a bit of history. Read up, teach yourself a bit about what to expect with diabetes (you might run into some crises yourself someday, if you haven’t before) and then I’ll write the rest of this story down

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news_landing_page/first-use-of-insulin-in-treatment-of-diabetes-88-years-ago-today