Beyond the catchphrase
The pain and intransigence of obsessive-compulsive disorder motivates researchers plumbing its depths.Story by Amy Ellis Nutt, WashPost
The computer screen and joystick are similar to those used with many virtual-reality games. It’s just that at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the players compete while lying inside a highly sensitive MRI scanner.
The frontier in mental illness treatment: In the struggle over the future of psychiatry, researchers look deep within the brain to understand mental illness and find new therapeutic tools.
In one challenge, the youths maneuver through a maze of corridors, searching for bright green dollar signs. Another tests their ability to recognize an error on the screen. All the while, the scanner is photographing “slices” of their brains. The ultimate reward is far more than a game: In the first clinical trial of its kind, those multi-band images are mapping the unknown territory of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The goal of psychologist Rachel Marsh is to uncover what goes wrong in the brain circuits of people with OCD, among the most intransigent of mental conditions. But the institute, part of Columbia University Medical Center, is probing on multiple fronts. Several investigators are tracking an intriguing but often overlooked neurochemical in patients. And still others are studying an antibiotic commonly used to treat acne, which they hope could be one of the missing pieces of the agonizing OCD puzzle.