From Brain Health to Violence Prevention

We are excited to introduce you to one of our new partners and a new project — Mary Ann Liebert, Inc and their new peer-reviewed, open-access scientific publication Violence and Gender. We have included below a perspective we published in their premiere issue.  But before we get to that, let me first expand a bit on the significance of such a partner and project. First, Mary Ann Liebert is a publishing house that has been responsible for providing expert insights in many critical areas of science, engineering, technology, health, law, and economics.  They have amazing experience and we cannot take for granted the value of their providing a voice in these areas.  Having an audience and the ability to connect with others and to share insights, findings, and information, gives people the incentive and motivation to travel into novel areas of discovery. In the case of Violence and Gender, it sheds a light on a critically unmet need. Second, the fact that the journal is “peer-reviewed” means that when researchers submit a body of work they would like published, it is reviewed, independently, by experts in the area to judge the scientific quality, merit, and meaning of their work.  Only when the reviewers are convinced of these criteria, is the paper moved forward for publication. Finally, we must appreciate the fact that the journal is “open-access.” This term refers to the fact that articles are available online free of charge. As a result, creative and innovative thinkers are not financially handcuffed to a limited availability of, typically old and outdated, information.  We need to make all of this type of information free and available, and applaud Mary Ann Liebert for playing a role in leading this charge. We would like to encourage our scientific supporters to consider submitting their work to our new journal – Together we can make it a great success.


Volume 1, Number 1, 2014
(C) Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/vio.2013.1504

Jeremy G Richman, PhD
Founder & CEO, The Avielle Foundation
Associate Editor, Violence and Gender Journal

Understanding brain health can prevent another Sandy Hook shooting
It has been said in many different ways and in many different contexts, that in life, we have little control over what happens to us. However, what we do have control over is how we respond to life events. Indeed, it could be argued that it is how each of us responds to life’s challenges that make up the core of our individuality and character. When faced with tragedy, we all respond in different ways. When our daughter, Avielle Rose, was murdered with 19 of her classmates and 6 of her educators on December 14th, 2012 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, my wife and I were faced with the most tragic, crucible-event of our lives.Avie's Service (259) On that day we lost our future, our reason, and our greatest joy. We questioned, “Why would anyone want to commit such a heinous act of violence?” We are now driven to answer this question, not only for us, but also for the people from all over the world who wrote letters of condolence to us, many asking the same and similar questions, “How could this be happening again, after Littleton, Tucson, and Aurora?” “How many more of these mass shootings do we endure?”

Being scientists, we are compelled to seek answers to questions that begin with “how” and “why”. And in response to this tragedy, we have started the Avielle Foundation. Our goal is to take a scientifically rigorous approach to preventing violence, violence of any kind, but certainly we want to understand the brain pathologies that underlie a young man’s obsession with mass murder. Therefore, the mission of The Avielle Foundation is to prevent violence through research, discovery, understanding, and education.

The first phase of our development strategy has been to officially establish the Avielle Foundation as a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization and to garner support, across different disciplines, including the political arena, the scientific and clinical communities, and in the community of the everyday citizen. We are bolstered by the extraordinarily enthusiastic responses we have received in this first phase. We were granted 501(c)3 status approval in July, 2013. We have met face-to-face with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and many of our U.S. Senators and Representatives who support and value our mission. We have strong and enthusiastic support of the scientific community, including Nobel laureate neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, neurologists, ethicists, and educators. But most importantly, we have been building support and fostering engagement of everyday citizens. The onus is now on us, in the second phase of our development strategy, to communicate the need for focused efforts to understand and prevent violence to people who can make change happen – Scientists, physicians, educators, law enforcement, parents, and young adults. An important extension of the Foundation’s voice into our supporting communities is our relationship with Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. and the powerful new Violence and Gender Journal.

As Americans, it seems our inclination is to react to violence rather than to prevent it. While putting a dollar value on the cost of crime is very complex and may be debated, a conservative estimate has been set by the US Department of Justice at around $450 billion USD annually. This accounts for lost wages, victim compensation, legal costs, and most notably, incarceration. We are all shocked by the seemingly pervasive and enduring presence of violence throughout our communities, yet topics of solution and fault are both divisive and paralyzing. The debates on firearm laws, mental health, the influence of violent media, the role of the family unit, legal processes and rights regarding incarceration, and the corrections industry have us at odds and distrusting each other. The propagation of fear in these discussions leads to stigma, an inability to confront adversity and an unwillingness to explore the diversity of our world. What is not debatable is the profound benefit to society, well beyond the fiscal scope, to researching violence prevention. Clearly, violence is a large psychological, societal, and economic burden.

We can only speculate as to why there is such an unmet need for this research and postulate that there are three primary reasons:
1. Unlike parents and those suffering from other brain maladies such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and PTSD, who demand that research be done and someone champion their cause, most victims of violence demand justice, not research;
2. Studying the brain as it pertains to behavior is expensive and not readily accessible; and
3. The brain is a very complex and difficult organ to study, and as a result much of our view of brain illnesses is based purely on symptomatic diagnosis. This leads to a lot of fear, trepidation, and stigma as brain disease concepts are “mental”, intangible, poorly defined, and invisible.

What we need is less fear, and more hope. We need the promise of a safer, more nurturing, and supportive world. Understanding the brain pathologies underlying aggression and violence is a clear and unmet need, both an unmet need to know “why” and an unmet need for hope. We want to be able to identify problems in the brain that can result in the manifestation of behavioral symptoms of violence, aggression and antisocial behavior and provide biological definitions and causality. We no longer want to say a child is anti-social, this teenager is depressed, or this adult is a psychopath. There will be a time in the very near future when the underlying brain pathologies, which lead to these symptoms, are identified and understood. The time to enhance our scientific exploration of these pathologies is now. And the Violence and Gender Journal will provide the credible resource to share this knowledge across the many disciplines researching aggression and violence.

The Avielle Foundation is going to champion efforts into understanding the underlying biochemical and genetic anomalies associated with violence. We begin by changing the language of all things “mental” to “brain” thereby making the invisible visible. There are tangible, measurable changes in gross structure, cellular structure, gene expression profiles, and biochemistry associated with brain pathologies and resulting behaviors. We want to use these signatures (and eventually biomarkers) to identify those at-risk of violent behaviors and to predict the success of interventions, be they behavioral modification, environmental changes, or pharmacological in nature. Fortunately, technologies used to view and study the brain, and to identify these biomarkers are advancing at a rapid pace, becoming increasingly sensitive, affordable, and accessible. They span the range from next generation sequencing and genome-wide association studies, to dual fMRI-PET scans. While these technologies are going to help pave the way to understanding the pathologies of brain illnesses, it is likely novel innovations, which we have yet to discover, that will provide the needed paradigm shift. These innovative technologies will both enable research to progress and facilitate the assessment of behavioral modification and therapeutic intervention successes. Ultimately, we need to bridge a gap between this measured biochemistry, functional, and structural change data, and the observed behaviors. That is to say, we need to bridge the “is he cruel to animals” behavioral sciences and the “pee in the cup” biochemical sciences, to elucidate not just correlations, but viable treatment, intervention, and prevention strategies. The efforts of our Foundation and this Journal will help build that bridge.

With the help of extensive education and support programs designed to show the public the importance and effectiveness of knowing brain causality, violence and aggression, people will recognize early warning signs of behavioral indicators of violence and aggression. They will feel safer going to their doctor or taking their child to their pediatrician when he or she knows “why” the symptoms exist. The doctor will be able to give hope to the patient by naming a visible and measurable problem, and then provide viable treatment options. In the end, lives may be saved, communities made safer, families healthier, and everyone will be better off.

Author Disclosure Statement
Dr. Richman is the Founder and CEO of The Avielle Foundation

Address correspondence to:
Jeremy G Richman, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO, the Avielle Foundation
203-304-1733 (Office)
PO Box 686
Newtown, CT 06470
[email protected]

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