This Tuesday, May 12, join us on Capitol Hill for a public luncheon briefing about marijuana and the brain. Top experts in the
field will speak about medicinal marijuana and the drug’s effect on the brain, as well as research on the impact of state marijuana policies.
Guest post by science writer Carl Sherman
Within the brain’s complexity is the diversity of its 10 billion neurons: large, small, thin, fat, connected by long fibrils or short bushy ones. Some produce the neurotransmitter serotonin; others dopamine or norepinephrine. How this abundance of forms arises is a mystery we are just starting to penetrate.
It’s of more than mere theoretical interest, says Minoree Kohwi, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Columbia University. “Knowing how the brain is built, piece by piece, from the ground up, may give critical clues as to what goes wrong to cause diseases, and ultimately help us prevent or cure them.” It may even, someday, allow us to make neurons to replace those lost to injury or aging.
Dana Alliance member Barry Gordon, M.D., is familiar with autism on both a personal and professional level. Gordon, a behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins with interests in disorders of speech, language, and memory, is also father to a severely autistic 22-year old son who cannot speak.
“It was beyond irony when our son proved to be unable to speak and unable to learn,” he said at a July Capitol Hill briefing, hosted by AAAS through the support of the Dana Foundation in conjunction with Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). [See also our interview with him in 2012.]
What makes us human?
This conundrum, a perennial challenge to poets and philosophers, was the subject of a talk last Wednesday hosted by Columbia University’s Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.
From a neuroscientist’s perspective, the question becomes “What’s human-specific about our brains that allows the emergence of higher cognitive abilities?” said Franck Polleux, who recently joined the Columbia faculty as professor of neuroscience. On a genetic level, “[it] can be rephrased: ‘what happened in the genome since we [and chimpanzees] diverged from a common ancestor some six million years ago?’”
Since her undergraduate days, Elizabeth M. C. Hillman, Ph.D., said, “I’ve been obsessed with blood flow in the brain.” So she studied physics and engineering, a path whose logic became evident in her talk this past Wednesday, hosted by Columbia University’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute.
The blood flow that has attracted her particular attention for nearly a decade is in the infant brain, said Dr. Hillman, director of the Laboratory for Functional Optical Imaging at Columbia School of Engineering, who described research into a paradox that could point the way to new treatments for brain disorders in both children and adults.