Towards Better Treatments for Brain Diseases

What if brain diseases like schizophrenia and major depression could be detected and successfully treated before symptoms begin to wreck lives?

Why are half of all traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases missed in visits to the hospital emergency department and the doctor’s office?

These provocative questions were raised in an outdoor science symposium held at the Staglin winery in Napa, California – not the usual location for a staid neuroscience meeting, which kicked off the Music Festival for Brain Health.

New Approaches to Diagnosing and Treating Brain Conditions

The annual music festival brings donors together with the research nonprofits OneMind and IMHRO, which are funding and supporting a range of innovative approaches to seemingly intractable mental health challenges like bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress (PTS), and the aforementioned TBI, depression, and schizophrenia.

Some top highlights of the science symposium:

Geoffrey Manley M.D., Professor and Vice Chairman of Neurosurgery at UCSF, kicked off the symposium with the sobering fact half of all TBI cases are missed by medical professionals. The TRACK-TBI research study is designed to help better diagnose and understand effective treatments for concussions and other types of TBI.

Carrie Bearden, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology at UCLA, spoke at length about a new and very ambitious depression research project that hopes to recruit 100,000 subjects, an unheard of number for a structured research program. The UCLA Grand Challenge on Depression aims to truly understand the biologic basis of depression (rather than throw typically ineffective meds at the problem), and develop new screening and treatment methods that address some of the root biology of depression.

High Risk – High Payoff Moonshots in Brain Health Research

General Pete Chiarelli, former Vice Chief of the US Army, and now CEO of OneMind, spoke about the overarching needs of better science collaboration in brain research, along with fixing a broken system for sharing validated, reliable clinical trial and research data on TBI and other brain health conditions.

General Chiarelli has taken a personal interest in TBI research, due in part to the strong link between suicide, depression, and TBI history in many US military service members and veterans.

Breaking down institutional barriers to true research collaboration and data sharing will be a continual battle – the historical lack of common standards on how to describe brain conditions (or even common naming standards for brain regions) is one big impediment.

On the bright side, projects like the Obama BRAIN initiative, along with the work OneMind and IMHRO are supporting will move us in the right direction.

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