Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Report on the Seville Conference of the Society for Applied Neuroscience (SAN)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

It is said that an emerging democracy should be judged not by its first election, but rather by its second. Perhaps similarly a new organization should be judged not by its first conference but by its second. The Society of Applied Neuroscience just held its second biannual conference in Seville, Spain, and by the above standard seems to be well on its way. The SAN spun off from the ISNR after the Winterthur conference in February of 2004. It held its first conference in Swansea in 2006. On the order of 200 people came to this one.

One motivation for the organizational separation was the feeling among some European academics that the ISNR was not sufficiently scientifically rigorous. One could also read that to mean it was not dominated by academics. In response, the conference program certainly reflected a high level of meaty scientific content. But when it came to the neurofeedback presentations by the academics, the disconnect from the clinical world was only too apparent. (more…)

Implications of Personalized Medicine for Research

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Much proposed research on neurofeedback has faltered over the years on the issue of uniformity of approach. The protocol to be investigated needs to be narrowly constrained or the research will be criticized for a lack of specificity. We have had a number conversations over the years with researchers who were willing to give Neurofeedback research a go, provided we would give them a fixed protocol to work with. In recent years, we have been increasingly unwilling to do this, and by now the point has been reached where such fixed protocols are plainly inappropriate.

The best neurofeedback requires one to react to how the client is reacting to the training, and to make appropriate adjustments. The moment we know this, it becomes ethically questionable to proceed in a manner that sweeps such particularity under the carpet. As it happens, however, the way we proceed in practice is not very different from the way a psychiatrist might proceed in optimizing medication. The choice of medication is often driven more by side effects than by bare-bones efficacy, particularly in the case of the most common medications, the antidepressants. And in many instances medications are combined in various ways. Research by classical methods is not of help when it comes to polypharmacy, and it is not of help with regard to handling side effects. To some degree, therefore, ‘Personalized Medicine’ has already emerged in pharmacotherapy, but this has not yet succeeded in feeding back to rewrite the rules for research. A recent analysis of the status of the science at the FDA, requested by FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, came up with the recommendation that the FDA could help to define personalized medicine. “This is the science that the FDA can really take a lead on.” [Science, 318, p.1537, 7 Dec 2007] In neurofeedback, we are in the same boat. (more…)

The Role of Amateurs in Science

Monday, November 19th, 2007

There is one field in which an extensive mutually beneficial relationship has existed between amateurs and professionals. It is in astronomy, and the phenomenon was recently taken up in Science Magazine by John Bohannon (Volume 318, 12 October 2007, pp 192-3). Significantly, this symbiosis is occurring in a science in which we have only limited ability to do experiments. Mostly the science is observational. Most of the scientific observations are specifically targeted and hypothesis-based. They are so numerous that time on the big observatories for each project is scarce and therefore precious. But there is another crucial aspect of astronomy that focuses on celestial events that are not predictable either in time or place. This is mostly where the amateurs come in. They represent a world-wide army of knowledgeable observers that is on watch every night around the globe. (more…)

Oxidative Stress in Autism

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

One of the maddening aspects of the dismissal of the environmental hypothesis for autism is that the counter-evidence provided is never allowed to be seen in context. The environmental hypothesis is rejected in favor of an ostensibly “pure” genetic hypothesis and that’s that. Evidence for the genetic hypothesis—which is indeed plentiful—is allowed to displace the environmental hypothesis as if the one excluded the other.

It is of course much more “ecological” to assume that just as the genetics of autism is turning out to be complex, environmental influences are likely to be complex as well. Ruling out environmental factors is not at all a trivial matter, and epidemiology is not up to the task. We are now aided in this discussion by a new study just published in the American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology {4(2), 73-84 (2008!)}. The lead author, Elizabeth M. Sajdel-Sukowska, is at the Harvard Department of Psychiatry.

The overarching model is that oxidative stress wreaks havoc with brain function; mercury contributes famously to such oxidative stress; and the autistic brain may have difficulty with detoxing mercury itself, or it may have difficulty with mounting counter-measures, as with anti-oxidants such as selenium and glutathione.


Intelligent Design, Spontaneous Remission and the Placebo

Friday, September 14th, 2007

This is not going to be an article on Intelligent Design. But Intelligent Design is a member of a class of concepts that appear in scientific dialogue without ever having earned their way in the usual fashion of combining theory with evidence. Now Intelligent Design just happens to be a concept that scientists would like to banish from the discourse. But other concepts that similarly lack the particulars of a scientific theory have overcome the immune reaction and reside happily among us. Examples are the placebo effect, the idea of spontaneous remission, and the Anthropic Principle. These concepts were never intended to become true science. They serve a useful function as placeholders, even as overt “untheories.”

Just as the idea of Intelligent Design makes a place–at least in principle–for a “God of the gaps,” the placebo model and spontaneous remission serve in the role of filling gaps in our scientific models. Matters are least ambiguous with regard to the concept of spontaneous remission. No scientist who is uncomfortable with the idea of Intelligent Design is any more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous remission. The term is not meant literally. One assumes that the spontaneous remission of cancer will ultimately yield to mechanistic understanding. But we have not been prepared to deal with that issue up to now. So everyone understands that spontaneous remission is just a placeholder that allows the conversation to proceed on issues that we can handle. (more…)

Sense and Nonsense on Autism: Beyond Genetics

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Sense and Nonsense about Autism: Beyond Genetics
beach “Autism is currently, in our view, the most important and the fastest-evolving disorder in all of medical science and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future.” —-Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Columbia University’s school of medicine.

A few months back David Kirby (author of the book “Evidence of Harm”) interviewed Katy Wright about her autistic child Christian, and more specifically the recovery that he was beginning to make with biomedical treatments that have been developed over the years by the MDs and Ph.D.s involved with the organization Defeat Autism Now (DAN). (

Katy makes no bones about what she believes happened to her son: “I believe that Christian’s regression and subsequent autism was the result of receiving six vaccines during one office visit at two months of age,” she wrote. “He screamed for twelve hours and had a 104 degree fever nearly the entire time. His vaccines contained thimerosal,” the mercury-based preservative. “It is devastating,” she added, “because so much of this is preventable.” (more…)


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