Brain problems from sport, psychedelics for cancer patients: research funding

New Zealand's first research examining the brain tissue of people with sports-related brain degeneration is being funded by the Health Research Council.

The research will be carried out by a scientist in the Centre for Brain Research who is herself a sportswoman: Dr Helen Murray, the captain of the New Zealand women's national ice hockey team. 

Two studies in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences will be funded by "emerging researcher" grants announced today, each amounting to nearly $250,000 and running for three years. 

Besides Dr Murray's work, the health council is funding an investigation of the potential for psychedelic "micro-dosing" to enhance psychotherapy of people with advanced cancer, a project to be carried out by Dr Lisa Reynolds in the Department of Psychological Medicine. 

Here are the details:

Dr Murray: Neuropathology of repetitive sport-related head injury

Repetitive mild traumatic brain injury in sport can lead to a progressive neurodegenerative disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE has been reported in athletes from a range of sports including rugby, soccer, American football, boxing and ice hockey.

The condition occurs many years after an athlete has endured repetitive head impacts and causes mood and behavioural changes that progressively develop into dementia.

CTE pathology involves the accumulation of toxic clumps of tau protein but we know very little about the other brain changes that occur.

Dr Helen Murray, the sportswoman investigating brain disorders

This project will use novel anatomical methods to compare structural changes in brains donated from former athletes diagnosed with CTE with normal brains and brains with Alzheimer’s.

This research will highlight how sport-related brain injury contributes to dementia and will identify potential targets to detect and prevent CTE pathology during an athlete's life, to promote healthy ageing.

Dr Lisa Reynolds teaches health psychology and supports cancer patients

Small doses of LSD combined with therapy could reduce anxiety, depression and existential distress in people with late-stage cancer

Dr Reynolds: Psychedelic-assisted therapy in advanced-stage cancer patients

The administration of high-dose psychedelic compounds have shown clinically significant benefits in the treatment of psychological distress in advanced cancer patients.

However, psychedelics at high doses can vividly alter perceptions; an experience that poses challenges in this vulnerable population.

‘Microdosing,' repeated administration of psychedelics in low doses, does not alter perceptions but may offer similar benefit in reducing anxiety, depression and existential distress.

This study will evaluate the feasibility of conducting a randomised controlled trial comparing psychedelic-microdose assisted Meaning-Centred Psychotherapy to standard Meaning-Centred Psychotherapy in people who have advanced cancer and anxiety or depression.

Participants will be randomised to receive psychotherapy alongside doses of either an LSD microdose or placebo. The feasibility, acceptability, safety and potential psychological benefits of this intervention will be assessed.

The findings will inform the development of a larger trial and provide initial indication of potential benefits of psychedelic microdosing in advanced cancer.

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