From Birth to Two: the Neuroscience of Infant Development

Photo courtesy of AAAS

Photo courtesy of AAAS

“There are many misconceptions about child development,” said Pat Levitt, Provost Professor at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California at the latest Neuroscience and Society lecture convened by the Dana Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Some of the most prevalent myths include that humans are born with a blank slate; children are sponges; 80% of development takes place by 3 years old; and that a child’s outcome is predominantly self-determined. Moreover, many consider the mixture of fate, free will, parenting, genes, and environment a mysterious “black box” that ultimately decides a child’s success.

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Children’s Mental Health Awareness: OCD

Sunday, May 3rd to Saturday, May 9th is “Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week,” a national effort to raise awareness about the mental health needs of America’s youth. With obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affecting an estimated 2.2 million American adults, the condition first surfaces during childhood or early adolescence. To learn more about OCD, we spoke with expert Judy Rapoport, M.D., who is chief of the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health and a Dana Alliance member.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone casually say they “have OCD” because they like to keep things organized in a certain way or follow some sort of ritual every day. What is the real distinction between someone who is particular and someone who is diagnosed with OCD?

rapoport headshotPeople diagnosed with OCD have habits or thoughts that significantly interfere with their functioning. For example, one patient may spend so much time, carrying out some other ritual that they are unable to go to work. Others are so preoccupied that they have an illness or that they have hurt someone that they can think or talk about little else. This is an important question, however, because there is a “dimension” of OCD, and there are some people whose habits are on the borderline of a disorder but they, and those around them, can manage with them. Continue reading

Brain Quiz Show Tonight

A signature event of Brain Awareness Week is the Brain Bee, which tests high school students’ knowledge of neuroscience in a live Q&A competition.  Students compete in local competitions, which lead to a national competition in Maryland in March, and then on to the International contest, which this year is taking place in Cairns, Australia in August.

Thanks to our friends at Brainfacts.org, I’ve recently learned of another neuroscience quiz show, this time in the undergraduate arena. The Center for Biomedical Neuroscience (CBN) Brain Bowl “includes three rounds of short answer questions that get more difficult with each round. The final round is a complex ‘challenge’ question, where teams can wager points they have accumulated in the previous rounds.” This year’s competing universities are Trinity University, University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Texas at Arlington.

If you’re curious to see what it’s all about, check out the livestream tonight at 7 p.m. CST (8 p.m. EST). You can also read more about the competition on the UT Health Science Center website.

-Ann L. Whitman

Cerebral Malaria: A Wily Foe…8 Years Later

guest post by Kayt Sukel

With today’s headlines awash with tales of measles and the Ebola virus, it can be easy to forget that malaria, an infectious disease caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum, remains one of the most deadly diseases on the planet. According to the World Health Organization, more than 600,000 people died of malaria in 2012—the majority attributed to the most severe form of the disease, cerebral malaria. One of malaria’s biggest mysteries is why some people develop the cerebral form of the disease, in which the malarial parasites invade the blood vessels around the brain, and then recover, while others with this form, many of them young children, will die of the infection.

Dr. Terrie Taylor, Michigan State University, takes vitals on a child in the pediatric malaria ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Africa. Photo by Jim Peck, MSU

Dr. Terrie Taylor, Michigan State University, takes vitals on a child in the pediatric malaria ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Africa. Photo by Jim Peck, MSU

In 2008, I spoke with Terrie Taylor, DO, about her clinical work with cerebral malaria patients in Malawi. She explained how cerebral malaria is a “tricky disease,” but was optimistic that researchers would have a clearer picture of how Plasmodium falciparum occupy the brain’s blood vessels in five to ten years. One of her most important goals was to understand what might be different in the brains of those who died of the disease from those who survived. Now, eight years after my Cerebrum story “Cerebral Malaria:  A Wily Foe” was published, Taylor and colleagues have published a groundbreaking neuroimaging study in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighting one of those key differences.

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Families Welcome at AAAS Meeting in San Jose

AAAS-SciBot-450

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in San Jose’s convention center this weekend, includes one of my favorite events of the year—Family Science Days. Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5, everyone is invited to come and learn more about science, all for free.

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