Stories about: behavioral medicine

Can mice model human behaviors? Maybe better than you think

neurobehavioral mouse assays
(gegenart/Shutterstock)

A mouse surrounded by computer screens turns its head when it notices lines moving across one of them, as a camera captures this evidence of visual acuity. A chamber similarly equipped with video cameras tests social interaction between mice. A small swimming pool, with shapes on its walls as navigational cues, lets scientists gauge a mouse’s spatial memory. A pint-sized treadmill, with a tiny camera to watch foot placement, measures gait.

Here in the Neurobehavioral Developmental Core at Boston Children’s Hospital, managed by Nick Andrews, PhD, the well-tended mice also have opportunities to play: “If you have a happy mouse,” says Andrews, “researchers get better, more consistent results.”

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10 trends to watch in pediatric medicine: Part 1

Girl looking in microscope-ShutterstockSince our “trends” posts at the top of the year are among our most viewed, Vector took time out this summer to take an interim snapshot of pediatric medicine’s cutting edge. Here we present, in no particular order, our first five picks. Check back next Friday for Part 2. If you want more, there’s still time to register for our National Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (September 26-27). The posts will also appear as an article in the fall issue of Children’s Hospitals Today magazine.

1. Digital health apps 2.0

The electronic revolution in health care continues. According to recent surveys, more than 90 percent of physicians have smartphones and more than 60 percent are using tablet devices like iPads for professional purposes. Dr. Eric Topol and others think these digital tools are the future of medicine.

Mobile apps keep proliferating, adding more and more features: high-quality image capture, voice-to-text capabilities and gaming techniques to motivate adherence, as well as sensors that gather physiologic data, like glucose levels and heart rate. Consumers are tracking and sharing data themselves, saving time in the clinic and helping physicians monitor their symptoms. Through the much-hyped Google Glass, it won’t be long before doctors can seamlessly call up patient data, look up a drug dosage and get decision support during a clinical visit without using a hand-held device.

One limiting factor in this “Wild West” scenario is the FDA’s ability to keep up with digital advances from a regulatory standpoint.

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Is it really ADHD? Brain activity may provide an objective measure

The right inferior frontal gyrus, part of the prefrontal cortex, lights up on fMRI when children play a game requiring them to resist a natural impulse. This brain area is naturally in flux between ages 5 and 7, Sheridan has found.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), lowering the minimum age at which physicians should consider drug treatment from 6 years to 4 years.

But here’s the problem. “Current behavioral criteria for ADHD are most effective only after age 8 or 9,” says Margaret Sheridan of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Children’s Hospital Boston. “If you use them at age 3 to 6, then you’re wrong about half the time, and the child will stop meeting the criteria by age 8.”

Little kids, especially boys, are naturally distractible, impulsive and fidgety. Some mature more slowly; some are just the youngest in their class. Many will grow out of their wild but largely age-appropriate behaviors.

But letting true ADHD fester, explaining symptoms away as “kids just being kids,” deprives children of the benefits of behavioral or pharmacologic treatment at a time when their young brains are highly responsive.

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Disease management meets intelligent design

At a conference in Texas a couple of years ago, I found myself – as at all good national conferences — talking to a colleague from my own institution. As we browsed the poster session, we talked about our respective work.

Eugenia Chan works in the Developmental Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital Boston, where I’m an emergency physician and health services researcher. I told Eugenia about The Online Advocate, a Web-based system I’d been developing for the past eight years. It screens patients and families for health-related social problems, provides feedback and helps them find services in their area that can assist them.

Eugenia was excited about bringing The Online Advocate to her patients.“This is really great, and I want to use it,” she said. “But I have another idea that I would like to explore with you.”

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Shadowing ADHD with web-based tools

This is how  it used to be when I saw a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: “You know, Dr. Chan, I really don’t think the medicine’s working,” the parent would tell me. “I just don’t see any difference in his behavior.”

“Well, the medicine has probably worn off by the time you see him at home,” I’d say. “What does his teacher think?”

“She hasn’t called me, so I assume there hasn’t been any trouble.” Then: “Oh—I was supposed to give her that questionnaire to fill out, wasn’t I?  I’m so sorry, I totally forgot.”

As a developmental-behavioral pediatrician specializing in ADHD, I used to have this conversation with parents at almost every single follow-up visit, leaving me frustrated.

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