I recently got back from the Colombian Congress of Psychiatry and was incredibly impressed both by the high standard of scientific work and the wonderfully welcoming people I met.
I have to say, I didn’t see quite as much of the conference as I normally would owing to the rather relentless pace of partying that seems to occur in Bogot√° (things I haven’t seen at UK psychiatry conferences: the president of the national psychiatric association stood atop a table getting everyone to wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care).
For me, one of the academic highlights was actually from a Spaniard, Julio Sanju√°n, who talked about some innovative research he’s doing on auditory hallucinations.
In one elegant study, Sanju√°n and his team decided to look at what sort of brain activation is triggered by neutral and emotional words in patients with schizophrenia who hear voices.
It’s remarkably how many studies in schizophrenia have been done of changes in visual perception when one of the major problems for many people with the diagnosis is that they hear intrusive and unpleasant hallucinated voices.
Sanju√°n came up with the idea of simply looking at how the brains of people with schizophrenia react to hearing emotional words (such as swear words) compared to neutral words – matched for word type and frequency.
The image on the right shows the remarkable difference, whereby emotional words cause a much larger response in the brain. In fact, they found they triggered much greater frontal lobe, temporal cortex, insula, cingulate, and amygdala activity, largely on the right.
It’s a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ study that might help explain why people with schizophrenia often find their voices so disabling when other people in the population can hear voices and remain undisturbed.
In terms of drug company ridiculousness that often appears as part of the ‘educational effort’ in European Conferences (i.e. models on bikes), it was remarkably muted in comparison.
However, one particular lowlight was finding out the session I was speaking at was being used by Janssen to advertise their ‘new’ antipsychotic paliperidone – which is actually little more than a repackaged risperidone.
Did I mention risperidone has just gone out of patent and can now be produced much more cheaply by other drug companies? Obviously nothing at all to do with Janssen having a newly patented drug to sell I’m sure.
Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.