Breakthrough study offers ray of hope to those suffering from anxiety.

Neuroscientists just pinpointed the physical source of anxiety in our brains — and it could lead to a breakthrough treatment.

Using mice. And light rays.

Experiments have located so-called "anxiety cells" located in the hippocampus of mice brains. Using a ray of light, researchers found they could literally turn down the level of anxiety in these cells.


“This is exciting because it represents a direct, rapid pathway in the brain that lets animals respond to anxiety-provoking places without needing to go through higher-order brain regions,” said Mazen Kheirbek, assistant professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, and a lead investigator on the joint study conducted by UCSF and Columbia University.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has experienced an anxiety disorder.

Photo by Alexander Mils/​Unsplash.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31% of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety disorder in at some point in their lives.

And celebrities are not immune either. Public figures like Kristen Bell, Lady Gaga, and journalist Dan Harris have shared their own difficulties in navigating a mental illness that can seem invisible to everyone else.

The most common treatments typically involve a combination of therapy and medications. Antidepressents, or SSRI drugs, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with critics arguing they are often over-prescribed and in less severe cases may even mask symptoms that could be otherwise treated through different approaches.

A ray of hope. Seriously.

Image via Lab of Rene Hen, Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

That's what makes this new study so compelling. If there's an alternative approach to treating anxiety that is both more precise and less invasive, it could be a legitimate breakthrough approach to treating anxiety disorders.

Using rays of light, the researchers were able to track the brain activity in freely moving mice, getting real-time feedback about whether the "anxiety neurons" in their brains were activated during stressful situations:

"They found that suppressing the anxiety neuron pathway made animals more comfortable spending time in environments that usually frighten them, while stimulating the same neural connections made mice behave with anxiety even in safely enclosed spaces."

"Now that we’ve found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn’t know existed before," said Jessica Jimenez, lead author of the joint study.

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde/Unsplash.

There's still a lot more work to be done.

Even though the study offers a ton of potential, experiments on mice don't always perfectly translate to trials on humans.

Even though he calls the initial results "tremendous progress," NIMH director Joshua Gordon said we're still far from a solution. "You can think of this paper as one brick in a big wall," he told NPR.

Still, there's no denying the promise and potential for the millions of people living with anxiety disorders and the countless others affected by such challenges.

via Jules Lipoff / Twitter

Weronika Jachimowicz, 17, is getting a lot of attention for subverting people's expectations of who excels in high school. And that's exactly what she wants.

Jachimowicz was named New York's Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District's 2021 salutatorian. Her yearbook photo next to valedictorian Luke Altman is going viral because of her dramatic Goth makeup and attire.

It all started when assistant professor and writer Dr. Jules Lipoff tweeted out a photo of the valedictorian and salutatorian he saw in a newspaper and it went viral. How many salutatorians have you seen that wear pentagram hoop earrings, a choker, and black devil horns?

The juxtaposition of her next to the bowtie-wearing Altman, makes the photo even more amusing.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less