Michael O. Tanzer, MD

NYC Psychiatrist located in the Financial District - 65 Broadway, Suite 739, New York, NY 10006  ~ phone: (646) 580-1970

Topics on Mental Health

Monitoring brain activity for timely medication release

Michael Tanzer, 2016

Israeli scientists have demonstrated a method of analyzing brain activity for signs of an impending episode associated with a mental disorder, prior to the incident actually occurring. When an impending episode is detected, drugs are released to prevent the flare-up from taking place.

In this setup scientists place an EEG cap on the subject’s head to record their brain activity. An application, developed to analyze the recorded brain activity determines if an episode is due to occur. It has been demonstrated that the application can detect the prodromal phase of a psychotic episode, such as a schizophrenia episode, prior to the episode's actual onset.

In the Israeli approach the appropriate drugs will have already been ingested by the subject in the form of small protected capsules that will be circulating in the body. The capsules containing the drugs are called "nanobots," which are small DNA capsules, that have micro “gates” that will open up to release the drugs when they receive a signal from the system.

The use of the nanobots to release drugs upon transmitted signals has only been tested on animals. The EEG cap will have to be miniaturized so it can be worn unobtrusively by an individual and the algorithms that analyze the brain signals and the use of nanobots will require extensive testing in human subjects. There is therefore considerable new development and testing that must be completed before this system can be safely used on humans. However the concept provides us with an exciting look at a potential medical advance that may be available in the foreseeable future and provide benefits in the treatment of mental disorders.

For further information see: Israeli scientists use nanobots and thoughts to control when drugs are administered.

Changing Attitudes Toward Psychiatry

by Michael Tanzer, 2016

At one time mental illness was considered to be a condition that was distinct from physical illness, but in fact, this distinction merely reflected a lack of knowledge about the brain and how it functions. This old view of mental conditions led to the idea that when one had a mental issue it was an indication of an inherent weakness while a physical problem was merely due to an unfortunate and often uncontrollable circumstance. The result of this line of thought was that individuals were sometimes reluctant to seek help in resolving mental issues; they suffered in silence and frequently experienced progressively worsening symptoms.

Today we know that, although extraordinarily complex, the human mind is an organ in the body just as the heart and liver are organs in the body and as such mental processes are also subject to similar physical and physiological dysfunction. For many of our most common medical problems the underlying causes are poorly understood. High blood pressure is a good example. Most cases of high blood pressure are considered idiopathic, meaning we do not know the underlying cause and yet we do know the damage that results from persistent high blood pressure. Fortunately there are treatments for high blood pressure that have a good record of success. Modification of life style and / or high blood pressure medication will, in many cases, enable an individual to maintain their blood pressure within a safe range.

It is difficult to imagine someone with high blood pressure refusing to take medication because they would feel embarrassed or think that by taking the medication they have shown weakness. And yet there were individuals whose life style had been negatively impacted by a mental condition but refused treatment despite the fact that this would have allowed them to lead a more fulfilling and productive life. This attitude is no longer prevalent. Today, most individuals recognize that psychiatry is a key component of our society's health system and, unlike in the past, there is little stigma associated with seeing a psychiatrist for treatment.

Death of a life partner may increase risk of atrial fibrillation, study suggests

The Los Angeles Times (4/5, Netburn) reports that research published in Open Heart suggests "the death of a life partner can throw your heart out of whack - not just emotionally but physically." Investigators "found that people who lost their partner within the previous 30 days are 41% more likely to develop" atrial fibrillation "compared with those who were not recently bereaved."  STAT (4/5, Boodman) reports that the investigators found that "the risk was highest in those under age 60, and this was further elevated if the spouse's death was unexpected - indicating that the emotional shock may have played a causative role."

Study indicates patients with bipolar disorder have exceptionally excitable brain cells

The San Diego Union-Tribune (10/28, Fikes) reported that patients with bipolar disorder (BD) "have exceptionally excitable brain cells, and lithium selectively calms these neurons in responsive patients," according to a research letter published online Oct. 28 in the journal Nature. For the study, researchers examined induced pluripotent stem cell-generated "brain cells from six" patients with BD, then "compared them to neurons generated from people without the disorder."   HealthDay (10/29, Preidt) reports that not only were the reprogrammed cells from people with BD more "sensitive" and had "more active mitochondria," but also that "the neurons from the three who responded to lithium became less sensitive when exposed to the drug, while the neurons from non-responders remained highly sensitive after exposure to lithium." Brain inflammation may be associated with schizophrenia, study finds Newsweek (10/17, Gaffey) reported that a study published online Oct. 16 in the American Journal of Psychiatry "concluded that people at risk of developing schizophrenia showed high levels of inflammation in their brains, which was also true of patients already suffering from the disorder."

The study's findings indicate that should the disorder be "detected early enough through brain scans, schizophrenia could potentially be prevented or at least mitigated in at-risk patients using simple anti-inflammatory" medicines.   HealthDay (10/17, Preidt) reported that in arriving at these conclusions, investigators used "PET scans to assess immune cell activity in the brains of 56 people." Some participants "had schizophrenia, some were at risk for the mental disorder, and others had no symptoms or risk of the disease."