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From KQED

San Jose Police Crack Down On Violence

The San Jose Police Department is cracking down on violent crime after the city's 25th homicide this year.

KQED Launches Affordable Care Act Guide

Are you confused about Obamacare? KQED and The California Report created a guide to help answer your questions about the Affordable Care Act.

Despite More Training, Police Struggle to Coordinate Response to Mental Illness

Tragedies like the Isla Vista killings at UC Santa Barbara in May, the 2011 beating death of a homeless man by police in Orange County and the recent video of a CHP officer punching a woman who'd run onto a freeway all raise the issue of how well police are trained to deal with people with mental illness. A number of departments in the state have beefed up their training -- but that doesn't guarantee success.

Covered California Struggles to Enroll Former Foster Youth

Young adults who've recently left the foster care system are having trouble signing up for health insurance through the state's marketplace, Covered California. The agency admits its website and counselors are ill-equipped to help this population.

PBS NewsHour

House and Senate try to find compromise on VA health care plan

WASHINGTON — A day after offering competing plans to improve veterans’ health care, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees are again attempting to find a compromise.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House veterans panel, and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had a public spat Thursday that appeared to jeopardize efforts to agree on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

Miller said Friday he spoke with Sanders on Thursday night and planned to speak with him again later Friday.

“We’re working,” Miller told reporters, adding that he was “here if necessary.”

A spokesman for Sanders called the discussion “productive” and said Sanders stands ready to return to Washington if needed to advance the negotiations. He traveled to Philadelphia for a conference and was also planning to go home to Vermont.

The House and Senate are set to adjourn next week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans’ health care is a top priority.

Sanders announced a proposal on Thursday that would cost about $25 billion over three years to lease new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

Miller’s proposal would require only $10 billion in emergency spending, with a promise of more spending in future years under the normal congressional budget process. His bill would keep most of the provisions in the Senate-passed bill and also would authorize about $100 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs to address shortfalls in the current budget year.

Both bills cost significantly less than bills approved last month by the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, the House adopted a nonbinding resolution Friday that endorses a Senate-passed provision aimed at improving VA care for survivors of military sexual assault.

The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., who said the 213-193 vote sent a “strong message” that the House supports improving care for veterans who are victims of sexual assault. Twenty-two Republicans joined 191 Democrats in supporting the motion to accept the Senate language as part of the final bill.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said House negotiators, led by Miller, “are continuing to work to find common ground on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to begin to address the scandalous treatment of our veterans.”

The post House and Senate try to find compromise on VA health care plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Probing the creative brain

On the NewsHour tonight, in collaboration with The Atlantic, a researcher examines why creativity and mental illness is often linked.

“As a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile subjects over the years, but Kurt Vonnegut—dear, funny, eccentric, lovable, tormented Kurt Vonnegut—will always be one of my favorites.”

So begins the Atlantic piece, “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” an in-depth look at the science of genius and why creativity and mental illness so often go hand in hand. Its writer is Dr. Nancy Andreasen, who has done groundbreaking neuro-imaging research on this link.

In collaboration with the Atlantic, the NewsHour will air a piece tonight on Andreasen’s research, which looks at prominent writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and John Cheever, their personal and family histories of mental illness and the role these conditions may play in their art. Judy Woodruff spent time with Andreasen recently in her lab.

Among the questions Andreasen addresses in her research: “What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not?” she writes in the Atlantic piece. “And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted?”

This is part of a NewsHour series on the science of the brain. On Thursday, the NewsHour aired a discussion on the largest study yet to look at genes associated with schizophrenia. On Wednesday, Miles O’Brien reported on scientists who study the brains of fruit flies and zebrafish.

The post Probing the creative brain appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Pinpointing genetic links to schizophrenia may open doors to better treatment

schizophrenia

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: understanding the connections between human genetics and schizophrenia.

It’s part of our series on the science of the brain. Tonight, we look at a study published this week, the largest ever of schizophrenia patients. There are more than three million of them in the U.S. The study found that perhaps more than 100 genes were associated with the condition. Genetics has long been assumed to play a role.

But for the first time, researchers found genes in the immune system are among those involved. Patients have long awaited better treatments.

Dr. Steven Hyman is the director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. His center was involved in this study. And I spoke with him yesterday.

Dr. Steven Hyman, welcome to the NewsHour.

First of all, tell us what it is like to have schizophrenia. We know that something like three million Americans suffer from this.

DR. STEVEN HYMAN, Broad Institute: That’s right. It affects about 1 percent of people worldwide, including the United States.

And what patients experience is extremely distressing and also disabling. There are three kinds of symptoms. Most famously, people have what are called psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, most often hearing voices that aren’t there, delusions, which are fixed false beliefs that are not culturally appropriate.

But also less well recognized are two other symptoms which contribute to disability. People have declines in their cognitive functions, things like memory, ability to pay attention, and ability to use their thoughts to control their emotions and behavior.

And then there’s another cluster of symptoms called deficit symptoms, where people have what is called blunted affect. That is even something very sad might not elicit a response or something very happy. They lose motivation.

The drugs we have today only treat the psychotic symptoms, and do that incompletely, and really don’t touch the other two sets of symptoms, leaving patients very disabled and great costs and challenges of course to families and society.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know this was a large study, as they go. What are the main findings here?

DR. STEVEN HYMAN: So the most important finding is that this is the beginning of identifying specific variations in genes that contribute to the causes of schizophrenia.

And I think it’s really important, just to put in context, that not very many years ago, schizophrenia was considered an absolutely mysterious disease. When I began my psychiatric training, there were many people who thought that the way parents, especially mothers, behaved toward children psychologically was the cause of this illness.

We now know that it is largely caused by genes. Genes are not fate for any of these diseases, but genes are very influential. But there’s a big step between knowing that genes are important and actually finding the genes that are involved. And in this study, which was a large international study, 108 separate locations in the genome were with certainty associated with the causes of schizophrenia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying a connection, but not in every case.

For example, you’re saying the genes — I know the studies show that genes that affect the immune system also show up in individuals with schizophrenia. So that means these genetic markings don’t in every case indicate causation.

DR. STEVEN HYMAN: Right. So, that’s exactly right.

Like most chronic common human illnesses, where genes are highly influential — and they’re influential in everybody — it’s just as you suggest. Different combinations of genes matter in different individuals, and we’re not yet in a stage — in a state to say, you know, these 20 genes or these 30 genes matter to this person.

But what we can do is begin to say, you know, in the population, there are now 108 known places in the genome which point us towards genes that are involved in causation. And, as you suggest, while most are in the nervous system, some of them, very intriguingly, point to the immune system as being involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were saying earlier that it’s been difficult to find medications to successfully treat schizophrenia, so why then are these findings so important?

DR. STEVEN HYMAN: Well, that’s what — that’s really — the whole reason to do these studies is ultimately to improve diagnosis and to develop treatment.

The first drugs to treat schizophrenia and, in fact, to treat, you know, depression and other psychiatric illnesses were discovered by serendipity, by prepared minds seeing unexpected effects of drugs on human beings. And the antipsychotic drugs that we use to treat schizophrenia stemmed from the discoveries made in the 1950s.

Tragically, there’s been no fundamental improvement on these drugs. So, we have been using, with improvements in terms of side effects and safety, fundamentally the same kinds of medications for more than half-a-century. And, indeed, it’s been so difficult because the human brain is not well modeled in animals, because it’s hidden behind our hard and opaque skulls. It’s been very hard to get real clues.

And drugs companies have been existing psychiatry, leaving patients with less and less hope. The key here is, if as a gene is involved causing an illness, in some sense, it’s a clue to what is going wrong, in this case in the brain, maybe the immune system, in the disease processes.

And, ultimately, as we add up these clues, people developing therapies, ultimately pharmaceutical companies, can say, OK, we’re going to target this gene, we’re going to target this pathway. And we hope, we very much hope that these clues will begin to bring industry back into the game, because, ultimately, we academics are going to do a lot of research, but it’s industry that has got to make the medicines.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, just quickly, I hear you saying, Dr. Hyman, it may be several years before these finding translate into new treatment.

DR. STEVEN HYMAN: Yes, unfortunately, because we’re all impatient, but no one is more impatient than those affected by these terrible illnesses and their families.

But the reality is that these are very early clues. They are real clues. They are not going to go away. They are going to lead us to — in important directions, but it will take many, many years to turn these into more useful treatments.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Steven Hyman, we thank you very much for talking with us.

DR. STEVEN HYMAN: My pleasure.

The post Pinpointing genetic links to schizophrenia may open doors to better treatment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Teen use of human growth hormones doubles, survey finds

Graph by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Graph by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

The number of teens obtaining and abusing human growth hormones has doubled in one year, according to a survey published Wednesday by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The finding was part of a confidential yearly investigation in which 3,705 high school students were surveyed. With 11 percent reporting using some form of HGH at least once, the rate is up from five percent in the last four annual surveys.

Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-doping Agency, partly blamed the aggressive promotion of performance enhancing substances in a largely unregulated marketplace both online and in store. He also noted that teenagers are especially vulnerable to such marketing and promises of improved body image.

Steve Pasierb, the President of the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, claimed that high school coaches have a key role in combating doping. He hinted that up to a third of the coaches are prepared to overlook the problem in the interests of winning.

The Mayo Clinic openly lists the hazards and side effects of taking non-prescribed human growth hormones by pubescent teens. The symptoms associated with injecting the substance include stunted growth, acne, liver problems, shrunken testicles for boys and excess facial hair for girls. There is also the danger of not knowing exactly where the drugs come from the unregulated, unmonitored market.

The post Teen use of human growth hormones doubles, survey finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.