News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Courts, States Put Death Penalty on Life Support

By Richard Wolf and Kevin Johnson | USA Today | September 14, 2015

Introduction

‘EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK…THERE’S A PROBLEM’

If there is such a thing as a lock for the death penalty, the case against Daniel Higgins appeared to be just that.

Already sought for sexually assaulting a child, Higgins killed Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Naylorlast October with a point-blank shot to the head, making him the only deputy slain in the department’s 130-year history. “I wanted him dead,” Sheriff Gary Painter says of the murderer.

But Naylor’s widow, Denise Davis, said she couldn’t bear the likely rounds of appeals that could stretch on for decades. Higgins was allowed to plead guilty and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty in America may be living on borrowed time. Continue reading »

Pain and Spinal Cord Imaging Measures in Children with Demyelinating Disease

By Nadia Barakat, Mark P. Gorman, Leslie Benson, Lino Becerra, and David Borsook | NeuroImage: Clinical | September 6, 2015

Abstract:

Pain is a significant problem in diseases affecting the spinal cord, including demyelinating disease. To date, studies have examined the reliability of clinical measures for assessing and classifying the severity of Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and also to evaluate SCI-related pain. Most of this research has focused on adult populations and patients with traumatic injuries. Little research exists regarding pediatric spinal cord demyelinating disease. One reason for this is the lack of reliable and useful approaches to measuring spinal cord changes since currently used diagnostic imaging has limited specificity for quantitative measures of demyelination. No single imaging technique demonstrates sufficiently high sensitivity or specificity to myelin, and strong correlation with clinical measures. However, recent advances in diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and magnetization transfer imaging (MTI) measures are considered promising in providing increasingly useful and specific information on spinal cord damage. Findings from these quantitative imaging modalities correlate with the extent of demyelination and remyelination. These techniques may be of potential use for defining the evolution of the disease state, how it may affect specific spinal cord pathways, and contribute to the management of pediatric demyelination syndromes. Since pain is a major presenting symptom in patients with transverse myelitis, the disease is an ideal model to evaluate imaging methods to define these regional changes within the spinal cord. In this review we summarize (1) pediatric demyelinating conditions affecting the spinal cord; (2) their distinguishing features; and (3) current diagnostic and classification methods with particular focus on pain pathways. We also focus on concepts that are essential in developing strategies for the detection, monitoring, treatment and repair of pediatric myelitis.

Read the full article here.

CLBB Faculty Members on Psychology and Juvenile Justice

CLBB Faculty Members Robert Kinscherff and Gina Vincent contributed to the new American Psychological Association Handbook of Psychology and Juvenile Justice. The handbook “consolidates and advances the knowledge about the legal, scientific, and applied foundations of the juvenile justice system”, and includes sections on relevant law, human development, risk factors for and patterns of offending, forensic assessment, interventions, training, and ethics. Dr. Kinscherff wrote a chapter entitled, “Distinguishing and Assessing Treatment Needs and Amenability to Rehabilitation”, and co-authored a chapter around ethical issues in psychology and juvenile justice with Gerald P. Koocher. Dr. Vincent co-authored the chapter entitled, “Juvenile Psychopathy: Appropriate and Inappropriate Uses in Legal Proceedings”.

Order the APA Handbook of Psychology and Juvenile Justice today!

Steve Hyman on Translational Neuroscience

Hyman_150x150Steven Hyman is a co-editor of the new book, Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies, published by the MIT Press. This volume, composed of insights from expert contributors, takes a look at the current state of translational neuroscience, challenges it faces, and effective ways forward. In overview:

Today, translational neuroscience faces significant challenges. Available therapies to treat brain and nervous system disorders are extremely limited and dated, and further development has effectively ceased. Disinvestment by the private sector occurred just as promising new technologies in genomics, stem cell biology, and neuroscience emerged to offer new possibilities. In this volume, experts from both academia and industry discuss how novel technologies and reworked translation concepts can create a more effective translational neuroscience.

The contributors consider such topics as using genomics and neuroscience for better diagnostics and biomarker identification; new approaches to disease based on stem cell technology and more careful use of animal models; and greater attention to human biology and what it will take to make new therapies available for clinical use. They conclude with a conceptual roadmap for an effective and credible translational neuroscience—one informed by a disease-focused knowledge base and clinical experience.

Dr. Hyman is also a featured contributor to the new book, Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical, and Legal Perspectives, edited by Walter Glannon and published by Cambridge University Press. His chapter, “Neurobiology Collides with Moral and Criminal Responsibility: The Result is Double Vision”, falls under Part V of the book, dealing with the legal implications of neuroscience, and including a chapter from Dr. Stephen Morse.

Order Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies and Free Will and the Brain today!

Clinical Approach to the Differential Diagnosis Between Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia and Primary Psychiatric Disorders

By Simon Ducharme, Bruce H. Price, Mykol Larvie, Darin D. Dougherty, and Bradford C. Dickerson | American Journal of Psychiatry | September 1, 2015

Summary:

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) describes a heterogeneous group of neurodegenerative diseases featuring various combinations of behavioral changes, language abnormalities, social cognitive impairment, and executive function deficits. FTD is divided into two major clinical syndromes: the behavioral variant (bvFTD) (1) and the language variants referred to as primary progressive aphasias (2).

Identifying bvFTD is challenging because symptoms can be subtle in the early stages, and they may combine features that are traditionally within the realm of psychiatry (e.g., personality changes, lack of empathy, compulsions) and others usually seen by neurologists (e.g., aphasia, cognitive impairments). Patients are often first evaluated in general psychiatric settings, and about 50% are initially diagnosed with a primary psychiatric illness (3).

Knowledge about FTD has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, and it is crucial for psychiatrists to include bvFTD as part of their differential diagnosis in a wide range of adult psychiatric disorders. In this article, we review the clinical approach to bvFTD, focusing in particular on the differential diagnosis between bvFTD and primary psychiatric disorders.

Read the full paper here.