Roundup: ‘Brain Signatures’ Identified for Some Chronic Pain Disorders; Mental Health Impact of Social Media on Adolescents; and More News

Landmark Study Identifies ‘Brain Signatures’ of Chronic Pain Caused by Stroke or Amputation

Scientists have made a potential breakthrough that may lead to better pain management for certain individuals. Researchers say that for the first time they have identified distinct brain activity in people with chronic pain disorders caused by stroke or amputation (phantom limb pain). 

States the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the study: “Data were collected over months while patients were at home, and they were analyzed using machine learning tools. Doing so, the researchers identified … objective biomarkers of chronic pain in individual patients.”

This study was unique compared to previous similar studies because researchers looked directly at changes in brain activity in two regions where pain responses are thought to occur — the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — as participants reported their current levels of chronic pain. Traditionally, researchers gather data about chronic pain through self-reports from those living with the condition, such as having study participants fill out questionnaires.

The findings of the study was published in Nature Neuroscience. It was funded by the NIH’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative.

“This is a great example of how tools for measuring brain activity originating from the BRAIN Initiative have been applied to the significant public health problem of relieving persistent, severe chronic pain,” said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of NIH, in a statement. “We are hopeful that building from these preliminary findings could lead to effective, non-addictive pain treatments.”

U.S. Surgeon General: Social Media’s ‘Profound Risk of Harm’ to Adolescents Must Be Addressed

Social media use among children and adolescents represents “a profound risk of harm” -- and there should be more research into social media’s impact on youth mental health, according to a new advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General.

While social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are "ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents," states the advisory from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D.

"Safe and healthy digital environments" are needed that "minimize harm and safeguard children’s and adolescents’ mental health and well-being during critical stages of development," the advisory states.

Up to 95 percent of youth ages 13-17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly,” says the advisory.

Over the last decade, research has started to emerge on the potentially negative impact. A study of U.S. kids aged 12–15, that was adjusted for baseline mental health status, found adolescents who spent more than three hours per day on social media "faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes including symptoms of depression and anxiety," the advisory noted.

A recent survey showed that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media. “And when asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46 percent of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse,” stated the advisory.

CDC: New HIV Infections Decreasing, Led by Decline Among 13- to 24-Year-Olds

In a new report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that annual new HIV infections were 12 percent lower in 2021 compared to 2017 — dropping from about 36,500 infections to 32,100. The decline was driven primarily by a 34 percent decrease in new infections among 13- to 24-year-olds, mostly among gay and bisexual males, the CDC said.

However, HIV prevention efforts "must go further and progress must be faster" for gains to reach populations equitably, the CDC states in a news release.

The decline in annual HIV infections among young gay and bisexual males was not even across all racial and ethnic groups, the CDC said. Declines were lower among young Black/African American, and 13- to 24-year-old Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual males, than young White gay and bisexual males. This suggests that HIV prevention and treatment are not reaching everyone in this group equitably, the CDC said.

The biggest improvement was in the number of people taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – a preventative treatment against HIV. In 2021, about 30 percent of the 1.2 million people who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed it—a notable improvement compared to about 13 percent prescribed PrEP in 2017.

“Our nation’s HIV prevention efforts continue to move in the right direction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said in a statement. “Longstanding factors, such as systemic inequities, social and economic marginalization and residential segregation, however, stand between highly effective HIV treatment and prevention and people who could benefit from them. Efforts must be accelerated and strengthened for progress to reach all groups faster and equitably.”

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