National Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview with Robert Edwards, M.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects roughly one in 100 people over the age of 60. With no biomarker or objective test to make a definitive diagnosis, PD has kept researchers searching for clues on how to treat, and hopefully prevent, the disease.

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and so we sat down with Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Robert Edwards, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of PD at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic. Edwards is a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab has received international recognition for demonstrating that vesicular monoamine transport protects against MPTP toxicity, suggesting an important mechanism that may also protect against Parkinson’s.

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Robert Edwards, M.D.

Regular exercise is proven to have positive effects on gait speed, strength, balance, and overall quality of life for people with PD. Though studies are still limited, dance therapy is said to greatly improve quality of life for this group, even more so than typical exercise. Can you talk a little bit about this?

RE: I am not an expert in this area, but exercise has clear short-term effects on function and for those more severely affected, on quality of life—those earlier in the disease are doing pretty well in any case. Presumably, exercise helps by improving the function of the basal ganglia circuitry that controls movement, much as it would in normal individuals. Dance therapy focuses on balance and other aspects of motor function different from standard exercises, so might be expected to add something new. Continue reading

Sapolsky on the Biology of Good and Evil

Guest post by Carl Sherman

“We’re a miserably violent species,” said Dana Alliance member Robert M. Sapolsky. “But we’re also a profoundly empathic, compassionate species.”

“How do we make sense of this… how do we understand the biology of it?”

sapolsky 10-2006, Stanford News Services

Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D.

In his keynote lecture that launched the “Learning & the Brain” conference in New York City last week, Sapolsky, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford University, led his audience on a whirlwind tour of the many-layered terrain from which human acts that include “the horrific, the wonderful, and everything in between” arise.

“We’ll get nowhere if we look for one part of the brain, or one gene, or one childhood experience” responsible for brutal murder and sublime self-sacrifice, he said. “Instead, we have to do something more complicated: to ask what went on in a person’s brain in the second before; also in the minutes, hours, days before; what hormones did to make that brain sensitive. We have to go back to adolescence, to childhood, to the cultures our ancestors invented, to ecosystems, all the way to evolution.”

In his talk, Sapolsky enlivened systematic explanations with intriguing details and quirky research findings.

Among its diverse role in regulating emotion, he pointed out, the insula cortex generates gustatory disgust; it activates if you taste spoiled food. “But it mediates moral disgust as well. When we hear of someone doing something appalling, we’re ‘sick to our stomach.’ It leaves ‘a bad taste in the mouth.’ The insula cortex can’t tell the difference between rotten food and unsavory behavior.” Continue reading

Public Event: Managing Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Neurodegenerative Disease

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Neuropsychiatric symptoms such as agitation, aggression and psychosis are frequently found in patients with neurodegenerative disorders. These symptoms increase the already significant burden of neurodegenerative diseases and complicate diagnosis and disease management, yet effective diagnostics and treatments are lacking.

Towards the goal of reducing this burden, this symposium will review state-of-the-art methods in the diagnosis and behavioral and pharmaceutical management of neuropsychiatric symptoms across a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases. Speakers will address the challenges of defining neuropsychiatric symptoms in the context of neurodegenerative diseases, present findings regarding emerging diagnostic biomarkers and novel therapies, and discuss current estimates of associated societal and economic costs. A closing panel discussion will identify strategies to reduce these costs for patients, caregivers, and society.

Call for Abstracts

Abstract submissions are invited for a poster session. For complete submission instructions, please visit this online portal. The deadline for abstract submission is Friday, April 27, 2018.

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Coben Reveals Secrets to Success

A recent Brainwave program focused on a best-selling author’s approach to writing thrillers. The featured guest was Harlan Coben, the 56-year-old author of 30 novels (seven New York Times No. 1 bestsellers) and a Jersey guy with a shaved head and a keen sense of humor. Matching wits and finding neuroscience angles was David Eagleman, the Stanford University-based author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and the writer and host of the Emmy-nominated PBS television series The Brain.

The Rubin Museum in New York City advertised the science of suspense as the program’s theme, but the conversation covered any number of areas that a writer of thrillers considers: memory, empathy, manipulation, human nature, and consciousness, to name a few.

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Coben explained that he helped jumpstart his thought process for his next book by sitting and observing people in Strawberry Fields in Central Park for three days.

Coben’s stories almost always contain woods and basketball and are set in North Jersey, where he lives (Ridgewood) with his pediatrician wife and two dogs. Growing up in a loud, Jewish home in Livingston, he said storytelling was essential to be heard at the dinner table. Even with four children, he says he still thinks of himself as a 17-year-old who is waiting for his life to begin. He believes that every individual has their own compelling story to tell and, in discussing human nature, said with a twinge of sarcasm, “We think we are uniquely complex, and no one knows what is really going on inside us. At the same time, we all think we are very good at reading the thoughts of others.”

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Dana Press Offers Cerebrum Anthology 2017

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When the cardboard cartons containing Cerebrum: Emerging Ideas in Brain Science 2018 arrived at our offices in midtown Manhattan a few weeks ago, pulling them out for the first time felt a bit like the birth of a new child. And like a newborn baby, each of the five anthology’s I’ve edited since coming to the Dana Foundation has its own look, personality, and distinct characteristics.

Let’s start with the look. The provocative cover is the work of J.F. Potevin, a French born, California-based artist whose work has appeared on the covers of Scientific American and Discover magazines. The cover also includes a complete list of contributors, many of them among the most distinguished neuroscientists in their research areas: Helen Mayberg on imaging, Beth Stevens on microglia, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone on deep brain stimulation, for example.

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