Heat and the brain – POLITICO

People taking psychotropic medications to treat mental illness are more at risk of harm from extreme heat, one reason the National Institutes of Health is putting dollars toward unraveling the link between mental health emergencies and extreme temperatures.

The agency has awarded a two-year, $466,000 grant to Boston University School of Public Health researchers to study clinical and policy interventions that could help the most vulnerable people on extremely hot days, as well as to investigate extreme heat’s mental health toll.

How so? Awardee Amruta Nori-Sarma, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences, has teamed up with other researchers from BU and Boston Medical Center to analyze data from the Boston Emergency Services Team, a 24/7 crisis intervention program that evaluates and treats kids and adults having mental health or substance use emergencies.

The team, which operates in the city and its suburbs, primarily serves low-income patients who are uninsured or have public insurance, and don’t have easy access to mental health services.

“Complex social and clinical needs, such as high rates of homelessness or psychotropic medications that may interfere with thermoregulation, make our clients particularly vulnerable to climate change, particularly extreme heat events,” Rachel Oblath, co-investigator and assistant professor of psychiatry at BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, who works with the team, said in a statement.

Using the grant, the researchers will study the team’s data on psychiatric emergency services use and interview clinicians who provide that care.

The goal: to better understand factors that make people susceptible to extreme heat-linked mental health problems.

Big picture: The grant is an extension of Nori-Sarma’s previous research, including a study that identified a link between mental health-related emergency department visits and hotter-than-normal summer days. Another study she worked on found that young and middle-aged U.S. adults were at higher risk for emergency department visits on extremely hot days than adults 65 and older.

Nori-Sarma also co-directs the Boston University School of Public Health-Harvard Chan School CAFÉ, an NIH-backed initiative that launched last year to turbocharge infrastructure and collaboration around the overlapping issues of climate and health.

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The EU is reupping its Human Brain Project, with the aim of finding practical uses for data it gathered over the past decade about how our gray matter works.

How’s that? The European Commission has extended the project, which began in 2013, for three more years at a cost of about $41 million, our colleagues across the pond report.

In the first decade, researchers created a virtual map of the human brain, an organ made up of some 86 billion neurons that form 100 trillion connections to each other.

What’s next? The work going forward, EBRAINS 2.0, will seek to put that map to practical use, making it available to researchers and clinicians to use in their work.

One possibility is to refine surgery for epilepsy so that only harmful brain tissue is removed.

Katrin Amunts, a German neuroscientist working on the project, said doctors in France are looking at how to combine patient imaging with brain project data to identify as much of the harmful tissue as possible to make the operation more effective.

Amunts said the project will run on Germany’s Jülich Center supercomputer, one of the largest in the world.

AI’s involved: The project has already contributed to the development of AI technologies.

Human Brain Project research into visual information processing has helped provide insights used to build artificial neural networks.

EBRAINS 2.0 will continue the effort.

Drug companies are racing to incorporate artificial intelligence into their research efforts, on the theory that AI could more efficiently identify promising targets and speed new medicines to market.

The Food and Drug Administration, the agency that approves new medicines, hasn’t said how it feels about that.

But it will soon. Our colleagues at Prescription Pulse report that the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has quietly refreshed its guidance agenda for the year, adding a document on artificial intelligence.

The forthcoming guidance, “Considerations for the Use of Artificial Intelligence to Support Regulatory Decision-Making for Drugs and Biological Products,” is due out sometime this year and will focus on what drugmakers should consider when using AI to generate data that supports applications for drug or biologic products, an agency spokesperson said.

Guidance doesn’t carry the full force of regulation, but companies abide by it to stay in regulators’ good graces.

Last year, the FDA said it had begun considering the role of AI in drug development by reaching out to stakeholders.

The agency said its goal was to facilitate the adoption of technology that could improve the drug development process, while ensuring the tech doesn’t adversely affect safety or efficacy.


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