The Genetics Of Mental Health

Jul 24 2014 @ 8:35am

Jane C. Hu presents new research that found “autism is 55 percent heritable,” which is higher than previously thought:

The most surprising finding in this study is that the genetic risk for autism lies mostly in variations of common genes, and not specific mutations. A small mutation in a single gene can cause a disease such as Huntington’s, and mutation of the BRCA1 gene increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. These sorts of mutations account for only 2.6 percent of autism risk, according to the new PAGES study, compared with 52 percent accounted for by common genes. In the vast majority of cases of autism, there is no one errant gene that codes for the disease, but rather a combination of common variations predicts autism risk. “You get a lot of the bad side of the coin and eventually push you into a disease,” says [Kathryn Roeder, a Carnegie Mellon University statistics and computational biology professor who led the study].

Our understanding of schizophrenia is also improving:

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Underwear In Orbit

Jul 24 2014 @ 8:02am

“Space underwear have come a long way since their first use fifty years ago,” observes Alyssa Shaw in a review of “Suited for Space,” an exhibition at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia:

On display in the quirky exhibition are a few different models of spacesuit underwear, dish_nasasuit including a beige cotton one-piece with coil spacers affixed strategically to allow airflow. “Such underwear,” the suit’s caption reads, “was an absolute necessity; it kept an astronaut from overheating in a completely airtight spacesuit.”

And an absolutely necessity it was. A sketch from 1965 shows the Gemini EV spacesuit with its many layers, the first of which labeled “underwear,” others including “comfort layer,” “pressure bladder,” and “restraint layer.” In the late 1960s, Atlas Underwear Corporations designed the Apollo 11 “biobelt,” a soft layer worn against astronaut’s skin designed to monitor things like blood pressure, but not necessarily designed with the wearer’s comfort in mind. Commander Chris Conrad of the Apollo 12 mission wasn’t a fan of the biobelt. He mused, “It looks like I’ve got poison ivy under these things.”

But decades of research have improved the situation:

In 2009, [Japanese astronaut] Koichi Wakata wore the same pair of underwear for nearly a month while on the International Space Station. The material tested was alleged to be sweat-wicking, odor resistant, and insulating, qualities needed in closed quarters during those oh-so-cold space nights. Wakata later attested to their success, having had no complaints from his fellow astronaut travelers of odd smells coming from his trusty drawers.

(Image via NASA)

No Meds? Go Directly To Jail

Jul 24 2014 @ 7:27am

Sarah Kliff flags a study suggesting that a decade-old Medicaid cost-saving move may have shunted mentally ill people into prisons:

About a decade ago, Medicaid programs were struggling to keep up with skyrocketing prescription drugs costs. Between 1997 and 2002, drug spending in the program for low-income Americans grew by about 20 percent annually, hitting $23.7 billion in 2010. Medicaid directors began looking for ways to tamp down on those costs. One of the most popular policies was something called “prior authorization” for a new wave of more expensive, anti-psychotic drugs used mostly to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disease. These policies, in a sense, worked: they helped rein in how much Medicaid spent filling prescriptions.

But in another sense, they may not have worked at all: a growing body of research has begun questioning whether restricting drug spending may have just shifted costs elsewhere – particularly, into the prison system. A team of researchers published data Tuesday in the American Journal of Managed Care showing that prior authorization policies in Medicaid programs have significantly higher rates of severe mental illness in their prison populations. Schizophrenics living in states with prior authorization requirements in Medicaid were 22 percent more likely to be jailed for a non-violent crime than those in states without those restrictions.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Jul 23 2014 @ 9:15pm

I needed that.

I read two essays today from Israel that deepened my understanding of the current darkness. One by Gershom Gorenberg is unsparing in its criticism of Netanyahu – a tough, and honorable, position to take in wartime. The other by David Horovitz conveys the acute sense of beleaguerment and bitterness with which Israel is confronting the latest evidence that it has yet to overcome the profound resistance of those whose country and land were taken from them decades ago now. Together, the two pieces are bookends of despair. There is much more carnage ahead – paid for, in part, by you and me.

You can see some of the effects in the latest CNN poll on the subject. Among Democrats, 49 percent say they have mostly or very favorable views of the Jewish state; but 48 percent have mostly or very unfavorable views – it’s split down the middle. On the question of whether Israel was justified “in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known as Gaza”, Democrats are also split 45 to 42 percent. There’s also a generation gap: among those over 50, an overwhelming majority – 65 – 26 – believe the Gaza campaign is justified; among the under 35, it’s an even split: 47 – 45. I’d say this is a problem for the Greater Israel lobby. The differential between their lock-step Democratic support in the Congress and the real divisions in the party at large may soon become much harder to disguise.

Today, we rounded up the facts, data and opinions on the latest threat to the ACA; we pondered the long-term futility of endlessly bombing Gazans to smithereens; I wondered not for the first time why the Democrats are unable to make an aggressive, positive case for their policies; and remembered a time when a Republican president could tell Israel (and Britain and France) to go take a hike. To puncture some of the humid summer gloom, we also launched a contest for the best cover song of an original hit. Speaking of which:

The most popular post of the day was For Israel, There Is No Such Thing As An Innocent Gazan; next up: Some Clarity On Russia and Ukraine.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 27 32 more readers became subscribers today to bring us to 29,690. You can help us get to 30,000 here - and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish - for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here.

See you in the morning.

In the face of a hopelessly deadlocked Congress, Ronald Brownstein expects Obama to act alone on the border crisis and on immigration reform more broadly. His chosen course of action, Brownstein adds, could have major consequences for the Republicans:

The president can’t provide [illegal immigrants] citizenship without action by Congress. But using the same theory of “deferred action” that he employed in 2012 for children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, he could apply prosecutorial discretion to allow some groups of the undocumented (such as adults here illegally with children who are U.S. citizens) to obtain work permits and function openly. Though the administration is still debating the reach of Obama’s authority, some top immigration advocates hope he could legalize up to half of the undocumented population.

Such a move would infuriate Republicans, both because the border crisis has deepened their conviction that any move toward legalization inspires more illegal migration and because the president would be bypassing Congress. They would likely challenge an Obama order through both legislation and litigation. Every 2016 GOP presidential contender could feel compelled to promise to repeal the order. Those would be momentous choices for a party already struggling to attract Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

Francis Wilkinson agrees that executive action is the only way forward, even though it will infuriate conservatives:

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Face Of The Day

Jul 23 2014 @ 8:07pm

House Financial Services Cmte Holds Hearing On Impact Of Dodd-Frank Act

Former House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on July 23, 2014. Frank testified during the committee’s hearing on “Assessing the Impact of the Dodd-Frank Act Four Years Later.’ By Win McNamee/Getty Images. Dish coverage of the anniversary here. Watch Barney address critics of the law in our Ask Anything series.

The Aftershocks Of Russian Decline

Jul 23 2014 @ 7:42pm

Josh Well tries to make sense of Putin’s appeal within Russia. During his travels there, Well detected “an undercurrent of aggrievement; a sense of having to restart after seven decades of the Soviet State, having to retrace steps back to the path the rest of the world had been on—and then struggle to catch up; a feeling that the chance for Russia to remake itself had been hampered by the hegemony of the West; a knowledge that the county was less than it could be, should be”:

That’s a feeling a great number of Americans can relate to: not only the frustration with growing inequality, but the sense that our country is also somehow becoming smaller than it should be. Here, when our sense of self is threatened, we turn to historical mythology that buttresses our belief in who we are: The American Dream, our forefathers wrestling with what that would be, the presidents who, through our beloved democracy, shaped how we understand it now—FDR, JFK, Reagan. We look for the next in that mold.

But Russians don’t have that history.

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Reminding us that the US subsidizes Israel to the tune of over $3 billion a year, Jesse Walker scrutinizes the case for this assistance and finds it lacking:

You hear two sets of arguments for the aid packages. The first is the one you’d expect: With some exceptions, which we’ll note in a moment, people who back Israeli policy tend to want America to fund it. The second comes from the folks who feel the aid gives Washington leverage that it can use to work for peace. America’s checks do give D.C. a greater ability to insert itself into the conflict, a fact that has led a number of Israel’s supporters as well as its critics to call for ending American aid. (Needless to say, that doesn’t mean they’d want the money to stop while the war is in progress.) Despite that power, Washington’s ability to tamp down the tensions has been, shall we say, rather limited. As my colleague Shikha Dalmia wrote a few years ago, “If money could buy peace, Israelis and Palestinians would now be holding hands and singing kumbaya.” Instead we’ve been subsidizing war.

We also pay for the clean-up afterward, David Corn adds, pointing to the $47 million humanitarian aid package the State Department announced on Monday:

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Father Time’s Racial Bias

Jul 23 2014 @ 6:45pm

Tom Jacobs highlights new (but not the first) research showing that African-Americans “age” faster than those of other races:

“On average, the biological age for blacks was 53.16 years,” compared to 49.84 years for whites, the researchers report. After controlling for socioeconomic status and health behaviors (they note that obesity rates are higher for blacks than whites, and excess weight can “contribute to progressive breakdowns in biological tissues and systems”), this gap shrank somewhat, but was still pronounced: 52.72 years for blacks, compared to 49.89 years for whites.

Previous researchers have pointed to the corrosive influence of racism as a possible explanation for the poorer health of blacks in America. A small study released in January found blacks who had experienced racism and come to accept (even unconsciously) the concept of racial inferiority had shorter leukocyte telomeres—a different biomarker of aging.

Levine and Crimmins did not attempt to measure negative health effects of racism, but their results are consistent with the theory.

The final results of Indonesia’s presidential election came in yesterday, and Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo won with 53 percent of the vote. All is not yet settled, however, as his opponent Prabowo Subianto intends to challenge the election in court:

A case would test the institutions of Indonesia’s young democracy, especially the Constitutional Court. Set up after the fall of Suharto, its reputation suffered a severe blow earlier this year when Akil Mochtar, its former chief justice, was imprisoned for life after being convicted of graft—for rigging rulings in disputed local elections. His successor, Hamdan Zoelva, used to belong to one of the six parties that backed Mr Prabowo. Their association makes many Jokowi supporters uneasy.

Still, it is hard to see how a challenge could succeed. The court would have to find evidence that more than 4m votes had been tampered with to overturn Jokowi’s victory. Some irregularities in the counting process have come to light, but Mr Prabowo has produced no evidence of fraud on the scale he alleges. And while the court may have the final say on the election, the political mood already seems to be turning Jokowi’s way.

Assuming Prabowo’s challenge fails, Jokowi will become the first Indonesian president not plucked from the country’s political or military elite. Yenni Kwok calls his election the start of a new chapter in Indonesian history:

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