Health Scan: New study helps identify true suicide risks

Israeli and American researchers identify variables that are reliable predictors of suicide attempts.

By JUDY SIEGEL
March 27, 2010 20:27
4 minute read.
Health Scan: New study helps identify true suicide risks

depression 88. (photo credit: )

A landmark Israeli-American study that can predict who among people suffering from depression are most likely to attempt suicide has been published in the prestigious journal Schizophrenia Research. Prof. Jonathan Rabinowitz of Bar-Ilan University’s Weisfeld School of Social Work recently published the study, along with one of his doctoral students, Shelly Bakst, and Prof. Evelyn Bromet of Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York.

The research involves a study of 600 patients admitted to hospitals in New York’s Suffolk County with some sort of psychotic illness who were tracked for more than a decade. A very large amount of data was compiled and the analysis enabled the researchers to identify variables that are reliable predictors of suicide attempts.

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These variables, which include prior suicide attempts, severity of depression and history of substance abuse, will enable psychiatrists to prevent suicide among those who are at higher risk by monitoring them and providing more hands-on therapeutic treatment.

“Greater attention to people with these risk factors may form the basis for early interventions aimed at reducing the risk of suicide attempts,” conclude the researchers, whose study was funded by the US National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health. This latest study follows the researchers’ publication last year in Schizophrenia Bulletin, which found that people with lower functioning exhibited a higher risk of suicidal behavior. These two journals are considered among the top 10 psychiatry journals in the world.

Meanwhile, Rabinowitz has joined an international consortium of scientists and pharmaceutical leaders, funded by the European Union, to develop effective drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia and depression. NEWMEDS (New Medications in Depression and Schizophrenia), supported by the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), is the largest collaboration of its kind ever assembled.

The initiative gathers top scientists from academic institutions and partners them with major drug companies, including JNJ, Lundbeck, Astra Zeneva, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, to develop new models and methods to treat schizophrenia and depression. Recently, the project’s 10 working groups met in Copenhagen to brainstorm about problems facing the industry. “Our objective in this five-year study is to develop advanced data analysis techniques to allow for shorter and more efficient clinical trials of antipsychotic and antidepressant medications,” said Rabinowitz. One of the major areas is to differentiate between the effectiveness of harmless placebos and actual treatments. “For the purpose of this study, we are assembling at BIU the largest repository anywhere of clinical trial data of these medications.” His team has so far collected data on over 30,000 schizophrenic patients an effort to devise more effective drug treatment.

SAVING RABBITS AND RODENTS
Animal experimentation could become unnecessary for developing treatments and testing medications, according to Tel Aviv University researchers who have developed a model to find the connection between tissue damage and mechanical function of cells. Prof. Amit Gefen of the biomedical engineering department of the Engineering Faculty developed a computerized algorithm; when a three-dimensional image of a cell is scanned using confocal laser microscopy (an imaging technique used to increase optical resolution), the algorithm can see how it would behave under different conditions. The research was recently published in the Journal of Biomechanics.

Gefen, who has done much research on rodents to find ways to treat “diabetic foot” that, when all fails, requires amputation of the limb, moved to tissue cultures of skin, muscle and bone in the lab. He then learned to test different characteristics of the same cell over and over. His algorithm makes the process even more streamlined and effective. Gefen believes it can be used as a generic technique to study external influences on cells in a variety of fields, and one day negate the need for animal experimentation.

SEE YOUR WAY TO A HEALTHIER BRAIN
Elderly people with untreated visual disorders are significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a University of Michigan Health System study. The study, using Medicare data, shows that those with poor vision who visited an ophthalmologist at least once were 64 percent less likely to develop dementia. The study, which appeared in the American Journal of Epidemiology , may draw a new picture of poor vision as a predictor of dementia rather than as a symptom.

“Visual problems can have serious consequences and are very common among the elderly, but many are not seeking treatment,” says lead author Dr. Mary Rogers at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Our results indicate that it is important for elderly individuals with visual problems to seek medical attention,” Rogers says. The types of vision treatment that were helpful in lowering the risk of dementia were surgery to correct cataracts and treatments for glaucoma, retinal disorders and other eye-related problems.

Proper vision is a requirement for many of the activities found to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. These include reading, playing board games, other mentally stimulating activities, social networking, as well as physical activity such as walking and routine exercise.

“While heart disease and cancer death rates are continuing to decline, mortality rates for Alzheimer’s are on the rise,” says Rogers. “So if we can delay the onset of dementia, we can save individuals and their families from the stress, cost and burden associated with this disease.”


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