The Positivity Effect: The Role of Resilience in Battling the Current Opioid Epidemic

The Positivity Effect: The Role of Resilience in Battling the Current Opioid Epidemic

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), nearly 100 million American adults report suffering from chronic or severe pain. Additionally, pain is a condition that disables more Americans in the US than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. The most recent definition of chronic pain is as follows, “a distressing experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage with sensory, emotional, cognitive, and social components.” In accordance with the high prevalence of chronic pain, reports from the Centers for Disease Control concluded that the most commonly prescribed class of medication in the US are opioid analgesics despite a lack of evidence supporting their efficacy in treating chronic pain.

Read More

A New Hope for Naltrexone in Managing Opioid Dependence

Thumbnail_2_DS.jpeg

 

In a survey of substance abuse-related hospital admissions taken by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a total of 26% of all admissions surveyed were due to primary opioid addiction. Of the 1.7 million cases surveyed, this percentage represents just under half a million cases in which opioid misuse was the primary issue [1]. This staggering proportion underscores the prevalence of opioid dependence in the US and begs the question of what is being done to help those struggling against opioid dependence.

 

One approach to assisting individuals recovering from opioid addiction has been to treat with a maintenance drug. A maintenance drug is a drug prescribed by a healthcare professional that helps reduce the cravings for opioids that often lead to relapse. Current treatments include methadone and buprenorphine, both of which can be thought of as substitute agents for the more addictive substances. While these types of therapies can often help reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal effects, they still carry the risk of abuse due to their pharmacological similarity to morphine and other opioids.

 

Naltrexone, a drug that works to block the receptors that mediate the addictiveness of opioids, has been tested previously as an agent to help patients maintain abstinence from opioid abuse. While its oral form demonstrates some efficacy, its clinical use has been limited due to issues with patient compliance [2]. Two recent studies from groups in the US and Norway have tested a new, injectable version of naltrexone that has shown promise compared to current standards of care [3, 4]. While relapse rates remain high among those recovering from opioid abuse, the continued development of pharmacotherapies in helping to reduce cravings is crucial in the effort to help these patients win back their independence [5].

 

David Shia

Staff Writer, Signal to Noise Magazine

MD/PhD Candidate in Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Doctoral Program, UCLA

 

 

References:

[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): 2002-2012. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. BHSIS Series S-71, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4850. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014).

 [2] Bart, G. Maintenance medication for opiate addiction: the foundation of recovery. Journal of Addictive Diseases 31(3), 207-225 (2012).

[3] Tanum, L., et al. Effectiveness of Injectable Extended-Release Naltrexone vs Daily Buprenorphine-Naloxone for Opioid Dependence: A Randomized Clinical Noninferiority Trial. JAMA Psychiatry 74(12), 1197-1205 (2017).

[4] Lee, J. D., et al. Comparative effectiveness of extended-release naltrexone versus buprenorphine-naloxone for opioid relapse prevention (X: BOT): a multicentre, open-label, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 391(10118), 309-318 (2017).

[5] Smyth, B. P., Barry, J., Keenan, E., & Ducray, K. (2010). Lapse and relapse following inpatient treatment of opiate dependence. Irish Medical Journal 103(6), 176-179 (2010).

Hacking Nature: Using Stem Cells to Combat Major Opioid Issues

Hacking Nature: Using Stem Cells to Combat Major Opioid Issues

3-D printing. Virtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars. Robotic surgery. Gene editing. Higgs boson. The list goes on. These recent breakthroughs are becoming household words (and items), and they are a testament to the rapid expansion of our society’s technological capabilities. In the world of medical research, however, this paradigm has recently shifted towards exploring natural biological systems rather than focusing on the typical research areas of medical devices and drug development.

Read More

Crying Out for Drugs: The Babies Behind the Opioid Epidemic

Crying Out for Drugs: The Babies Behind the Opioid Epidemic

Inside the walls of hospitals across the country, babies are literally crying out for drugs. The rising rate of opioid use and abuse has dramatically increased the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Characterized by inconsolable crying, seizures, difficulties feeding, sweating, and vomiting, NAS is the result of an infant’s withdrawal from opioids that the child was exposed to in utero. Upon delivery, newborns diagnosed with NAS often require prolonged treatment and spend days, weeks, or even months in a hospital.

Read More

The Key to Unlocking Pain Management

The Key to Unlocking Pain Management

How can the chemical structure of codeine, an opiate sold over-the-counter for years in cough medication, differ only slightly from that of a highly-regulated opiate like morphine? And why does this slight change in structure cause our bodies to respond differently to each drug? The answer comes down to the relationship between drug structure and function.

Read More

Why Journalists and Scientists Should Chew the Fat

Why Journalists and Scientists Should Chew the Fat

Science and journalism have a delicate relationship. Science needs its message to disseminate through the public; journalists need news to disseminate. But like a group of children playing telephone, the message can become distorted. Mistakes are inevitable because research is messy. This quintessentially human endeavor is a lengthy and ongoing process that takes time to smooth out mistakes and biases. At best, these mistakes fizzle from the news circuit. At worst, they can harm public health.

Read More

Dr. Jessica Polka: Revolutionizing Biomedical Research Communication

Dr. Jessica Polka: Revolutionizing Biomedical Research Communication

A major impediment to the scientific endeavor today is a lack of transparency, communication, and public visibility. In 1991, the fields of mathematics, physics, and computer science came up with a partial solution to this problem, arXiv.org, an online repository and forum to store, disperse, and discuss preprints, which are scientific manuscripts and communications prior to peer-review. While there is an increasing recognition of the role preprints play in the future of scientific communication, the life sciences have been indisputably behind the curve. However, this is rapidly changing, and at the forefront of the revolution is Jessica Polka, Ph.D. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Whitehead Institute and director of ASAPbio, a biologist-driven project to promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. I recently had the opportunity to speak with her about the rise of preprints in the life sciences.

Read More

Across the Bench with Elizabeth Fernandez

Across the Bench with Elizabeth Fernandez

After a long day at work, you just want to unwind with some entertainment on your commute back home. What if you could learn about some fun scientific topics, say trash-eating robots or cannibalistic galaxies, through an engaging conversation? Hold on, we are not asking you to converse with your fellow commuters (god forbid!). You could just tune in to Elizabeth's podcasts to hear her interview experts on a wide range of topics that explore the role of science in our lives.

Read More

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

  Vegetables lend our body a helping hand. Image Credit: Public domain

Vegetables lend our body a helping hand. Image Credit: Public domain

Everyone has their “sick food,” that staple cure-all of childhood, one whose guarded family recipe has been passed through the generations. But in order to extract all the helpful nutrients from these typically veggie-laden foods, our digestive system needs a helping hand. Our gastrointestinal tracts not only digest and absorb nutrients from the food we eat, but also play host to millions of benign microorganisms, collectively known as the “gut microbiome.” They feed as we eat, and in turn assist in digestion and release molecules that affect our bodies. Such secretions, including different types of fatty acids, have been found to specifically impact the immune system. So it’s no wonder that scientists have probed into how these fatty acids affect human health and disease.

 

Cells in the immune system can take on many different functions, two of which are “inflammatory” and “suppressive.” Inflammatory cells promote the attack of foreign, or perceived foreign, invaders, while suppressive ones keep the body’s defenses at bay. Maintaining a balance between these two is critical, and disequilibrium can lead to disease. In the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), the scales are tipped in favor of an inflammatory immune response. This leads to an “overactive” immune system that attacks the patient’s own nervous system. Since the fatty acids released by our microbiome affect our immune system, and an immune imbalance is thought to contribute to the development of MS, Dr. Aiden Haghikia and his team wondered if our gut residents’ secretions could impact MS directly [1].

 

To test their hypothesis, the researchers first looked at naive T cells, cells from the immune system that have yet to decide their function. They treated the cells with two different types of fatty acids: short chain and long chain. While naive T cells exposed to short chain fatty acids became suppressive, those given long chain fatty acids were more inflammatory. Dr. Haghikia and his colleagues then asked if they could apply these findings to a disease model in mice. Would treatment with short chain fatty acids be both preventative and therapeutic, fixing the imbalanced immune system by promoting suppressive T cells? As it turns out, these secretions do have a beneficial effect, but only before disease onset. Mice that had been fed short chain fatty acids prior to MS induction had generally less trouble walking and had more balanced immune systems than untreated mice – that is, they had more suppressive immune cells. However, when mice started receiving short chain fatty acids after their MS became apparent, they saw none of these benefits.

 

We are only just discovering the effects of short chain fatty acids on the immune system. Here, researchers were able to show that, in the context of MS, these molecules may have preemptive beneficial effects. If you recall, fatty acids can be secreted by our little friends in the gut. And what type of diet results in our gut microbiome producing short chain fatty acids? A vegetable-heavy one.

 

 

 

Megan G. Massa (@MegMassa)

Guest Contributor, Signal to Noise

First year PhD student, UCLA Neuroscience Interdepartmental Program with a focus in neuroendocrinology

 

References:                   

[1] Haghikia, A. et al. Dietary Fatty Acids Directly Impact Central Nervous System Autoimmunity via the Small Intestine. Immunity 43, 817–829 (2015).

Constellations: A Play of Multiple Universes and Infinite Possibilities

Constellations: A Play of Multiple Universes and Infinite Possibilities

Imagine you met a girl at a barbeque who asked you to lick your elbow. Would you try it? Would you make an excuse to get away? What if you did both at precisely the same time?

Using ideas from quantum physics and cosmology, the play Constellations addresses the universal question, what if? What would our lives be like if we had made a different choice? If we said the same words slightly differently? This is the story of a cosmologist named Marianne (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Roland, a bee keeper (Allen Leech) and every decision they ever and never made.

Read More

Parasitism in the Alien Movies

Parasitism in the Alien Movies

What makes the Alien franchise so impactful is how utterly terrifying the titular Aliens are.  These creatures are so grotesque and foreign to audiences, particularly in their reproductive strategy, that fans are simultaneously horrified and fascinated by what is on screen.  Perhaps unknown to many viewers, the lifecycle of Xenomorph XX121 from the films is not so unlike that of many common parasites found on our planet. The rest of this essay will compare the biology of the Xenomorphs to parasitoid wasps and nematomorph worms from Earth to illustrate how close to reality the biology of these aliens is and to discuss this exceptional instance of science inspiring artists.

Read More

The Standard Model High School

From supernovas to rain, humans to amoebas, all matter can be broken down into three key particles: electrons, protons, and neutrons. But over the years, scientists discovered even more particles, and that neutrons and protons could be broken down into even smaller parts, called elementary particles. Physicists created a theory called the Standard Model to interpret how elementary particles comprise the universe. The model is often depicted as a gigantic equation or as a periodic table of particles as a way to describe complex particle interactions. Strangely enough, some of these interactions are reminiscent of a time in our lives that we’re all too familiar with – high school.

Read More

Biases in Science News: Tracking Down the Source of Exaggerations

 Image Credit: Public domain

Image Credit: Public domain

How often have you seen a news headline about a study on the benefits of red wine or dark chocolate only to hear later about a new study that contradicts the first one? While many science stories have strong data and evidence to back their claims, other news headlines come from the type of data that can’t provide a definitive proof of cause-and-effect. [1]. A recent study [2] looked at how journalists write science stories and how these stories can end up as misleading headline science.

The authors determined how statements made in press releases influenced the presence of exaggerations in news stories. An example would be saying that “eating dark chocolate causes fewer heart attacks” instead of indicating that there was a correlation between a group that ate more dark chocolate and the number of heart attacks occurring in that group. This study would only demonstrate a correlation between heart attacks and eating dark chocolate and does not prove that eating dark chocolate was the cause for fewer heart attacks. Researchers looked through 534 press releases prepared by research journals and the corresponding 582 news articles, then identified any statements or advice not included in the manuscript.

Results show that 25% of the press releases included more explicit advice compared to the original paper. 20% of the press releases also misinterpreted a correlation study as a study that presented a cause-and-effect relationship. The results also demonstrated that journalists would not tend to include over-exaggerations if the exaggerations were not part of the original press release.

This paper shows how exaggerations in press releases can create misleading headlines in science news stories. Since journalists may not have the expertise or time to fact-check statements from a press release, any information included in a press release should be precise, and any claims made should not be exaggerated from the original study. Headline news is crucial for communicating science, but if the stories are inaccurate or over-exaggerated, it can erode people’s trust in the scientific method.   

- Erica K. Brockmeier
Toxicology post-doc / Aspiring science writer
@EKBrockmeier

 

References:
[1] Aschwanden, C. Science Isn’t Broken. Five Thirty Eight Science and Health (2015, Aug 19). Accessed on 2017, Feb 24. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/science-isnt-broken

[2] Sumner, P. et al. Exaggerations and Caveats in Press Releases and Health-Related Science News. PLoS ONE 11(12), e0168217. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168217 (2016).

A New Age for Birth Control: Reversible Male Contraceptives on the Horizon

A New Age for Birth Control: Reversible Male Contraceptives on the Horizon

In November of 2016, you may have seen a version of a headline like this: “Male birth control study nixed after men can’t handle side effects women face daily”. Steeped in some truth (a study was indeed cancelled after men experienced harsh side effects similar to what many women experience) and masked by outrage (from readers and authors who didn’t know that the severity of side effects far exceeded those felt by women), the news clearly struck a chord with many people who wish for the burden of birth control to be shared by men and women.

Read More

Why Communicating Science Matters: How the Scirens are Shaping Perspectives

In 2014, Taryn O’Neill, Tamara Krinsky, and Gia Mora formed the Scirens, the screen sirens for science. Their mission is to inspire science literacy in the general public through entertainment fueled by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) storylines and featuring, as they put it, “diverse, multi-dimensional female characters." The Signal to Noise Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with the Scirens and discuss their mission to encourage science literacy and create science-infused entertainment.

Read More

Sandwiches and Surface Markers: How to Analyze Flow Cytometry Data

Sandwiches and Surface Markers: How to Analyze Flow Cytometry Data

Every cell in an organism has unique functions which require specific proteins. For example, cells in eyes need proteins that can detect light, and immune cells use a variety of different proteins to detect and kill invading pathogens. To categorize each type of cell from a big group (say, from a blood sample, which contains many different cells), we can classify them based on their proteins. Now imagine you want to look at many different proteins on a lot of individual cells, and you want to do it fast. How can a scientist analyze almost twenty proteins on each cell, from millions of single cells, in less than an hour? This isn’t the imaginary dream of a tired graduate student, or a magical machine available only to the richest labs­—this is flow cytometry. 

Read More