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‘An incredible window into the brain’: New treatments target severe depression

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At 35, Sharon Jakab knew something was wrong when she started hallucinating.

“I saw my grandmother on the wall in the room. She was talking to me. I wasn’t sleeping, and I was a mess,” she says from her home in Burlington, Ont.

About a year and a half later, Jakab was suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of her second child. It became so bad, she was suicidal. “There was a gun in the house and there were cartridges. I was all set to kill myself.”  

She had to suicide-proof her home by taking away all dangerous objects, even skates, which have sharp blades.

Sharon Jakab, right, received magnetic seizure therapy this year to deal with her severe depression. She and her partner Karen Inkster suicide-proofed their home in Burlington. Ont. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Now 61, Jakab has been in and out of hospitals, dealing with what she calls “waves of depression” that have lasted most of her adult life. She’s tried about a dozen medications, including the antipsychotic drug clozapine.  “Clozapine really helped me a lot, but I still suffered from depression, psychosis and mania.”

Because standard treatment like medication and therapy weren’t effective, Jakab was diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression, a severe form of depression that close to a million Canadians experience.

‘A huge public health problem’

Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT, better known as shock treatment, is still considered the go-to treatment but comes with the common side effect of memory loss. So doctors are now exploring less invasive experimental approaches like brain stimulation that rewires the brain’s circuits. 

“Hard-to-treat depression is a huge public health problem” says Dr. Jeff Daskalakis of Toronto, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Temerty Centre for therapeutic brain intervention. “The idea that treatments that could potentially rectify or improve their illness can be very reassuring to patients.”

Dr. Jeff Daskalakis is working on new ways to deal with treatment-resistant depression. One method uses magnets instead of electricity to induce a seizure in a patient. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

One of those treatments being tested at CAMH is magnetic seizure therapy or MST. A magnetic coil to the front part of the patient’s head delivers a high-frequency pulse that induces a seizure. A big advantage is there are few or no adverse effects like memory loss.

“If we can limit those effects by delivering the stimulus at a much lower intensity with an alternative type of approach, in this case magnets as opposed to electricity, we can spare cognition and produce a seizure that gets people better,” says Daskalakis.

Over 150 patients have received MST during clinical trials at CAMH.

Jakab  jumped at the chance of getting the treatment. “I didn’t want to have ECT”, she says. “I had One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest image in my mind,” she adds, referring to the movie where Jack Nicholson gets a jolt of electricity through his head.

Over eight months last year, Jakab received 30 sessions of MST. “I felt what I call lighter, because I feel less sad, less depressed, and the suicidal thoughts diminished.”

Dr. Daniel Blumberger is part of a research team at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto looking at non-invasive therapies for treatment-resistant depression. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

“I think what’s challenging about treating depression is that everybody is different, and people come to it in a different way”, says Dr. Daniel Blumberger, medical head of the Temerty Centre. “There are probably multiple different types of depression, and finding the right treatment for the right individual is probably the next phase of delivering treatment for the illness.”

Blumberger has been working on a less invasive technique than MST, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS. It delivers a repetitive burst of magnetic pulses to the part of the brain affected by depression.

Over 1,000 patients have used the treatment which lasts three minutes. A study published in The Lancet this year showed how effective the treatment is, compared to the standard length of about 37 minutes.

“The outcome can be dramatic”, says Blumberger. “We will see a clinically significant response in about 50 per cent of patients, and 30 per cent of people have remission of their depressive symptoms.”

‘Ninety per cent of what we’ve learned about the brain, we’ve learned in the last 10 to 15 years,’ says Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Levitt. (Craig Chivers/CBC News)

At Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, researchers have been using a technique called MRI-guided focused ultrasound to help patients overcome hard-to-treat depression. With pinpoint accuracy, ultrasound beams heat and disrupt specific areas of the brain associated with depression.  

“The ultrasound goes directly to that circuit, makes a cut, and stops it from firing when it shouldn’t be firing,” says Dr. Anthony Levitt, chief of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at the hospital. “This is an incredible window into the brain. We no longer have to open the skull to cause damage to the brain.”

He adds, “Ninety per cent of what we’ve learned about the brain, we’ve learned in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Sky Zazlov of Toronto was one of the first patients to try the ultrasound treatment in May. She was diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression in 2011.

“It seems unrelenting,” she says. “I don’t even know how to explain it because it’s not angering, it’s frustrating.”

Sky Zazlov, right, with her son Isaak, was diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression in 2011. Close to one million Canadians suffer from this condition. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Before she was placed inside the MRI scanner, technicians shaved her head and fitted her with a round metallic helmet that transmits the ultrasound waves. The procedure lasts several hours, and as the patient is wheeled out, it’s too soon to know if the treatment worked.

A few months later, Zazlov is disappointed. There have been no changes in her mood. But she says she’s not giving up. Neither are her doctors, who’ve told her it could be up to a year before the treatment provides some relief.

“I’m not looking for a magic bullet,” says the 40-year-old mother. “I’m willing to put the work in, but I hope this will take away some of the despair.”

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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