Professor leads conference on Tourette’s

Scientists and clinicians from throughout the United States, led by the Yale School of Medicine’s Dr. Lawrence Scahill, conferred in the nation’s capital this week as part of an effort to develop new treatments for Tourette’s syndrome, a common neurological disorder with onset in childhood.

One of the conference’s main themes was the collaboration of scientists and clinicians from across medical scientific disciplines. Scahill said he invited scientists to the conference who were well-versed in a broad range of fields in addition to Tourette’s and child studies. Specialists, clinical investigators and basic scientists who rarely have the opportunity to participate in such discussions were among the 100 conference attendees, offering fresh and diverse perspectives on treating the disorder, he said.

“We hoped for 60-percent attendance from our wish list; however, we had an astounding 90-percent attendance,” Scahill said.

Tourette’s is usually characterized by sudden, involuntary movements and may be accompanied by other conditions such as obsessions, compulsions and mood variability. About 200,000 Americans suffer from the disorder today, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Flora Vaccarino, a neurobiology professor at the Yale Child Studies Center who participated in the conference, praised the conference’s spirit of collaboration.

“It taught both basic scientists and clinicians the value of collaborative work and discussion, while influencing the 150 participants to keep TS-related work in the forefront of their minds,” Vaccarino said.

Scahill said the level of interest among the broad range of participants was striking and could potentially lead to new discoveries. In the future, the scientists at the conference will conduct a collaborative study to discover the best chemical compound for possible Tourette’s treatment.

At the conference, Scahill and his colleagues highlighted the possibility of the design of a compound that would manipulate two of the most common neurotransmitter systems in the brain, the glutamate and GABA systems, in order to treat the disorder.

But this type of research will only be possible with substantially greater government funding or increased opportunities for collaborative work, Scahill said.

Yale nursing professor Sandra Tulley, though not present at the conference, said the type of cooperation that joined the efforts of the School of Nursing and the Child Studies Center at the conference continues back in New Haven, too.

“Collaboration with the Yale School of Nursing and the Yale Child Studies Center allows students and faculty even greater access to educational and training initiatives than one department could provide alone,” Tulley said.

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