Igor Grant Named Chair of UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry

Igor Grant, MD, FRCP(C), an internationally recognized neuropsychiatrist, whose research interests have ranged from the neurobiology of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, psychobiology of stress, to the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis, has been named the new Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

“Dr. Grant embodies the extraordinary scope and depth of research in the Department of Psychiatry. Indeed, he has been fundamental to its rise and enduring excellence,” said David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. “Dr. Grant has always been at the forefront of his science, pushing for answers to questions in new and sometimes controversial or difficult areas. I have no doubt that the Department of Psychiatry will continue to excel under his leadership.”

More here

The Ilk of Human KindnessOlder women with gumption score high on compassion
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that older women, plucky individuals and those who have suffered a recent major loss are more likely to be compassionate toward strangers than other older adults.
The study is published in this month’s issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Because compassionate behaviors are associated with better health and well-being as we age, the research findings offer insights into ways to improve the outcomes of individuals whose deficits in compassion put them at risk for becoming lonely and isolated later in life.
“We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully,” said Lisa Eyler, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and co-author. “We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity.”
The study, based on a survey of 1,006 randomly selected adults in San Diego County, aged 50 and over, with a mean age of 77, identified three factors that were predictive of a person’s self-reported compassion: gender, recent suffering and high mental resiliency.
Women, independent of their age, income, education, race, marital status or mental health status, scored higher on the compassion test, on average, than men. Higher levels of compassion were also observed among both men and women who had “walked a mile in another person’s shoes” and experienced a personal loss, such as a death in the family or illness, in the last year.
Those who reported higher confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times also reported more empathy toward strangers and joy from helping those in need.
“What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women,” said co-author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. “Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth.”

The Ilk of Human Kindness
Older women with gumption score high on compassion

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that older women, plucky individuals and those who have suffered a recent major loss are more likely to be compassionate toward strangers than other older adults.

The study is published in this month’s issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Because compassionate behaviors are associated with better health and well-being as we age, the research findings offer insights into ways to improve the outcomes of individuals whose deficits in compassion put them at risk for becoming lonely and isolated later in life.

“We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully,” said Lisa Eyler, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and co-author. “We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity.”

The study, based on a survey of 1,006 randomly selected adults in San Diego County, aged 50 and over, with a mean age of 77, identified three factors that were predictive of a person’s self-reported compassion: gender, recent suffering and high mental resiliency.

Women, independent of their age, income, education, race, marital status or mental health status, scored higher on the compassion test, on average, than men. Higher levels of compassion were also observed among both men and women who had “walked a mile in another person’s shoes” and experienced a personal loss, such as a death in the family or illness, in the last year.

Those who reported higher confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times also reported more empathy toward strangers and joy from helping those in need.

“What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women,” said co-author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. “Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth.”

Brain Trauma Raises Risk of Later PTSD in Active-Duty MarinesDeployment-related injuries are biggest predictor, but not the only factor   
In a novel study of U.S. Marines investigating the association between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time, a team of scientists led by researchers from the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that TBIs suffered during active-duty deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan were the greatest predictor for subsequent PTSD, but found pre-deployment PTSD symptoms and high combat intensity were also significant factors.
The findings are published in the December 11 online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.
The team, headed by principal investigator Dewleen G. Baker, MD, research director at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego and a practicing psychiatrist in the VA San Diego Healthcare System, analyzed 1,648 active-duty Marines and Navy servicemen from four infantry battalions of the First Marine Division based at Camp Pendleton in north San Diego County. The servicemen were evaluated approximately one month before a scheduled 7-month deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, one week after deployment had concluded, and again three and six months later.
PTSD is a psychiatric condition in which stress reactions become abnormal, chronic and may worsen over time. The condition is linked to depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, memory and cognition dysfunction and other health problems.
The servicemen were assessed at each evaluation using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale or CAPS, a structured interview widely employed to diagnose PTSD and severity. Researchers asked about any head injuries sustained prior to joining the service and any head injuries sustained during deployment from a blast or explosion, vehicle accident, fall or head wound from a bullet or fragment.
Traumatic brain injuries are common. At least 1.7 million Americans annually sustain a TBI, with an estimated 5 million Americans living with TBI-related disabilities. More than half (56.8 percent) of the servicemen reported a TBI prior to deployment; almost a fifth (19.8 percent) reported a TBI during deployment. The vast majority of deployment-related TBIs (87.2 percent) were deemed mild, with less than 24 hours of post-traumatic amnesia. Of the 117 Marines whose TBI resulted in lost consciousness, 111 said it was less than 30 minutes.
More here

Brain Trauma Raises Risk of Later PTSD in Active-Duty Marines
Deployment-related injuries are biggest predictor, but not the only factor   

In a novel study of U.S. Marines investigating the association between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time, a team of scientists led by researchers from the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report that TBIs suffered during active-duty deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan were the greatest predictor for subsequent PTSD, but found pre-deployment PTSD symptoms and high combat intensity were also significant factors.

The findings are published in the December 11 online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

The team, headed by principal investigator Dewleen G. Baker, MD, research director at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego and a practicing psychiatrist in the VA San Diego Healthcare System, analyzed 1,648 active-duty Marines and Navy servicemen from four infantry battalions of the First Marine Division based at Camp Pendleton in north San Diego County. The servicemen were evaluated approximately one month before a scheduled 7-month deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, one week after deployment had concluded, and again three and six months later.

PTSD is a psychiatric condition in which stress reactions become abnormal, chronic and may worsen over time. The condition is linked to depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, memory and cognition dysfunction and other health problems.

The servicemen were assessed at each evaluation using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale or CAPS, a structured interview widely employed to diagnose PTSD and severity. Researchers asked about any head injuries sustained prior to joining the service and any head injuries sustained during deployment from a blast or explosion, vehicle accident, fall or head wound from a bullet or fragment.

Traumatic brain injuries are common. At least 1.7 million Americans annually sustain a TBI, with an estimated 5 million Americans living with TBI-related disabilities. More than half (56.8 percent) of the servicemen reported a TBI prior to deployment; almost a fifth (19.8 percent) reported a TBI during deployment. The vast majority of deployment-related TBIs (87.2 percent) were deemed mild, with less than 24 hours of post-traumatic amnesia. Of the 117 Marines whose TBI resulted in lost consciousness, 111 said it was less than 30 minutes.

More here

Varenicline Helps Smokers with Depression to Quit Smoking
About half of smokers seeking treatment for smoking cessation have a history of depression. Compared with smokers who are not depressed, those who suffer from a major depressive disorder (MDD) have greater difficulty quitting.
In a Pfizer-sponsored clinical trial to assess the effect of varenicline (Chantix®) on smoking cessation, as well as mood and anxiety levels in smokers with current or a history of depression, researchers concluded that the drug does help some of these patients to quit smoking without worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety. 
The study was led by Robert Anthenelli, MD, associate chief of staff for mental health at VA San Diego Healthcare System and professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, where he directs the Pacific Treatment and Research Center.  It will be published September 17 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Depression and smoking are among the leading causes of disability and death in the world, yet studies testing smoking cessation drugs generally exclude participants who are taking antidepressants, and relapse rates are high among those who do manage to quit,” said Anthenelli. “To our knowledge, this was the first randomized, controlled study of the prescription smoking-cessation drug, varenicline, which we found to help patients with depression quit smoking, without worsening their depressive symptoms.”
The study looked at 525 adult smokers with stable current or past major depression, from 38 centers in eight countries. The study participants smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day, and were motivated to quit smoking. They took either varenicline or a placebo twice daily for 12 weeks; after treatment ended, researchers followed them for an additional 40 weeks.More here

Varenicline Helps Smokers with Depression to Quit Smoking

About half of smokers seeking treatment for smoking cessation have a history of depression. Compared with smokers who are not depressed, those who suffer from a major depressive disorder (MDD) have greater difficulty quitting.

In a Pfizer-sponsored clinical trial to assess the effect of varenicline (Chantix®) on smoking cessation, as well as mood and anxiety levels in smokers with current or a history of depression, researchers concluded that the drug does help some of these patients to quit smoking without worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

The study was led by Robert Anthenelli, MD, associate chief of staff for mental health at VA San Diego Healthcare System and professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, where he directs the Pacific Treatment and Research Center.  It will be published September 17 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Depression and smoking are among the leading causes of disability and death in the world, yet studies testing smoking cessation drugs generally exclude participants who are taking antidepressants, and relapse rates are high among those who do manage to quit,” said Anthenelli. “To our knowledge, this was the first randomized, controlled study of the prescription smoking-cessation drug, varenicline, which we found to help patients with depression quit smoking, without worsening their depressive symptoms.”

The study looked at 525 adult smokers with stable current or past major depression, from 38 centers in eight countries. The study participants smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day, and were motivated to quit smoking. They took either varenicline or a placebo twice daily for 12 weeks; after treatment ended, researchers followed them for an additional 40 weeks.

More here

Illustration courtesy of Bani Chaudhary, Saltman Quarterly
Ill-fitting genes
Many causative factors have linked to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa – culture, stress, puberty, social networks, among them – but the largest influence may be genetic.
In a new paper published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, an international team of scientists, including researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and UC San Diego School of Medicine, report that a variant of the EPHX2 gene that codes for an enzyme involved in regulating cholesterol metabolism occurs more frequently in people with anorexia.
“When we saw that, we thought that we might be onto something, because nobody else had reported this gene as having a pronounced role in anorexia,” said principal investigator Nicholas J. Schork, PhD, a professor at TSRI and professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego.
The study was the largest effort yet to probe the genetic underpinnings of anorexia, studying the DNA sequences of more than 1,200 patients and almost 2,000 non-anorexic controls.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is essential to life. It’s a critical structural component of cellular membranes and a precursor molecule necessary to many biochemical processes. The human body makes it, but also derives additional amounts from diet – excessively so when it comes to most modern, high-fat Western diets.
A number of serious health conditions and diseases are associated with abnormal or dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol, most notably heart disease and obesity. Researchers say it’s not clear yet how abnormal cholesterol metabolism caused by EPHX2 variants is linked to anorexia, but they note people with anorexia often exhibit unhealthily high blood cholesterol levels, even when severely malnourished.
Anorexia is primarily an affliction of women. The gender ratio is almost 10:1, with girls and young women particularly affected. Anorexics severely restrict eating and become emaciated, yet view themselves as fat and overweight. Study co-author Walter Kaye, MD, director of the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research, said people with anorexia tend to be anxious, depressed and obsessive.
The consequences can be deadly. The mortality rate for anorexia is estimated to be more than 10 percent, making it perhaps the deadliest of psychiatric illnesses.
Read the full TSRI news release here.

Illustration courtesy of Bani Chaudhary, Saltman Quarterly

Ill-fitting genes

Many causative factors have linked to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa – culture, stress, puberty, social networks, among them – but the largest influence may be genetic.

In a new paper published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, an international team of scientists, including researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and UC San Diego School of Medicine, report that a variant of the EPHX2 gene that codes for an enzyme involved in regulating cholesterol metabolism occurs more frequently in people with anorexia.

“When we saw that, we thought that we might be onto something, because nobody else had reported this gene as having a pronounced role in anorexia,” said principal investigator Nicholas J. Schork, PhD, a professor at TSRI and professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego.

The study was the largest effort yet to probe the genetic underpinnings of anorexia, studying the DNA sequences of more than 1,200 patients and almost 2,000 non-anorexic controls.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is essential to life. It’s a critical structural component of cellular membranes and a precursor molecule necessary to many biochemical processes. The human body makes it, but also derives additional amounts from diet – excessively so when it comes to most modern, high-fat Western diets.

A number of serious health conditions and diseases are associated with abnormal or dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol, most notably heart disease and obesity. Researchers say it’s not clear yet how abnormal cholesterol metabolism caused by EPHX2 variants is linked to anorexia, but they note people with anorexia often exhibit unhealthily high blood cholesterol levels, even when severely malnourished.

Anorexia is primarily an affliction of women. The gender ratio is almost 10:1, with girls and young women particularly affected. Anorexics severely restrict eating and become emaciated, yet view themselves as fat and overweight. Study co-author Walter Kaye, MD, director of the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research, said people with anorexia tend to be anxious, depressed and obsessive.

The consequences can be deadly. The mortality rate for anorexia is estimated to be more than 10 percent, making it perhaps the deadliest of psychiatric illnesses.

Read the full TSRI news release here.

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