Psychoneuroimmunology and the mind’s impact on health

If you are a skier like me, you likely revelled in watching the alpine skiing events during this years’ Olympic Winter Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Having raced myself when I was younger, I recall the feeling of being in the starting gate with all the anticipation and excitement it brings. But my memories are more than mere recollections of “images” in my head, for I also have vivid muscle memory, and when watching and cheering for Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, I can literally feel my leg muscles contract as if I were on the course myself. Because I skied for so much of my life, my experience now as a spectator brings me back to the hardwired responses that I can call up even to this day in a very intuitive way simply by visualizing a course.

Researchers at Stanford have now corroborated what athletes and psychologists have long believed: that visualizing ourselves performing a task, such as skiing down a race course, or engaged in other routines, improves our performance and increases our success rate. The findings, reported by neuroscientists in Neuron, suggest that mental rehearsal prepares our minds for real-world action. Using a new tool called a brain-machine interface, the researchers have shown how mental learning translates into physical performance and offers a potentially new way to study and understand the mind.

Could this new tool assist us in replicating cognitive responses to real-world settings in a controlled environment? More studies will need to be carried out in order to further test these findings and better understand the results. And one potential point to take into account is that preforming a real action is different than performing the same task mentally via a brain-imaging interface given that one’s muscles, skeletal system, and nervous system are all working in tandem; but, a brain-imaging interface would indeed seem to have very practical implications for those who use prosthetics or are who are paralyzed. As our knowledge of biomechanics and neuroscience advances, as well as our capabilities to interface the two, we may be able to utilize this technology to assist us in creating more life-like prosthetics and perhaps, harnessing the mind’s inborn processes and complex synapses, help others walk again.

Looking toward the future, another interesting subject of research would be to use a brain-imaging interface to study psychoneuroimmunology. We may not have the technology or ability to conduct such a study at the moment, but it seems plausible that in the near future we could develop the tools needed to conduct more rigorous research on the interactions between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems. If visualizing winning a ski race improves our performance, why not also envisioning good health outcomes: resilient bodies, strong immune systems, plentiful and efficient white blood cells. Simply willing ourselves to health might not be possible, but, to be sure, having a positive outlook has been shown to impact the outcome of disease, while conversely, increased levels of fear and distress before surgery have been associated with worse outcomes. These are but a few examples of the increasing evidence of the mind’s impact on health. It highlights the importance of recognizing a holistic approach that considers the roles of behavior, mood, thought, and psychology in bodily homeostasis. Continue reading

Violations of federal antifraud provisions alleged against two hepatitis B treatment producers

By Wendy S. Salkin

Two investor class-action suits have been filed within days of one another against two different California-based pharmaceutical companies both of which produce hepatitis B treatments, Dynavax Technologies and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals. The named plaintiffs in both shareholder class-action suits, David Soontjens and Yaki J. Meller, are represented by counsel at Pomerantz, LLP.[1]

Meller v. Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., et al., complaint filed (C. D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2016)

On November 15th, named plaintiff Yaki J. Meller filed a Class Action Complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Pasadena-based Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., its President and CEO (Christopher Anzalone), and its CFO (Kenneth Myszkowski). Arrowhead is a biopharmaceutical company that, according to its website, “develops medicines that treat intractable diseases by silencing the genes that cause them.”

Among its clinical stage drugs are ARC-520 and ARC-521, which “are designed to treat chronic hepatitis B virus infection by reducing the expression and release of new viral particles and key viral proteins with the goal of achieving a functional cure.” ARC-520 is the drug at issue. According to the Complaint, Arrowhead knew but failed to disclose that ARC-520 “could be fatal at its higher doses and that the FDA was unlikely to approve the treatment as a result.”[2] In particular, the Complaint alleges that Arrowhead:

made false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose that: (i) the Company’s ARC-520 was unsafe at certain doses and caused deaths in an ongoing primate toxicology study; and (ii) as a result, Arrowhead’s public statements were materially false and misleading at all relevant times.

According to Meller’s Complaint, in so doing, Arrowhead violated Sections 10(b) (“Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting.”) and 20(a) (“Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading.”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, “Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting” and “Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading,” respectively, and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5, “Employment of manipulative and deceptive devices.”

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Standards, Data Exchange and Intellectual Property Rights in Systems Biology

By Timo Minssen

I am happy to announce that our recent paper on “Standards, Data Exchange and Intellectual Property Rights in Systems Biology” has been published in the Biotechnology Journal Vol 11, Issue 12, pp. 1477-1480.  The paper was co-authored by Esther Van Zimmeren from the University of Antwerp, Berthold Rutz from the European Patent Office and me. Please find a summary below:

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) represent a key concern for researchers and industry in basically all high-tech sectors. IPRs regularly figure prominently in scientific journals and at scientific conferences and lead to dedicated workshops to increase the awareness and “IPR savviness” of scientists. In 2015, Biotechnology Journal published a report from an expert meeting on “Synthetic Biology & Intellectual Property Rights” organized by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation sponsored by the European Research Area Network (ERA-Net) in Synthetic Biology (ERASynBio), in which we provided a number of recommendations for a variety of stakeholders. The current article offers some deeper reflections about the interface between IPRs, standards and data exchange in Systems Biology resulting from an Expert Meeting funded by another ERA-Net, ERASysAPP. The meeting brought together experts and stakeholders (e.g. scientists, company representatives, officials from public funding organizations) in systems biology (SysBio) from different countries.  Despite the different profiles of the stakeholders at the meeting and the variety of interests, many concerns and opinions were shared. In case particular views were expressed by a specific type of stakeholder, this will be explicitly mentioned in the text. This article reflects on a number of particularly relevant issues that were discussed at the meeting and offers some recommendations. Continue reading