WSF19: Can We Cure Deafness and Blindness?

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Marlee Matlin. Photo: World Science Festival

When Marlee Matlin won an Academy Award for “Best Actress” in 1987 at age 21, it was groundbreaking for a few reasons. Not only was it her first role in a movie, but Matlin was (and still is) the youngest nominee to receive an Oscar in the Best Actress category. She also made Hollywood history that year for being the first deaf person to ever receive the award, which set her on a path of activism and advocacy for the deaf community for years to come. Fast forwarding to this year’s World Science Festival, Matlin remains an active member of the community and was prominently featured on a panel that examined recent advances in eliminating deafness and blindness, and the way society labels and treats people who are hard of hearing or blind.

The festival’s final program, held at the New-York Historical Society, was moderated by former broadcast journalist Emily Senay. Matlin was joined on stage by biophysicist Jim Hudspeth, neuroscientist E.J. Chichilnisky, and perceptual navigation specialist Daniel Kish, who lost his eyes to retinal cancer at 13-months-old. The speakers talked about cutting-edge research and how scientific advances can sometimes be unexpectedly controversial. Continue reading

WSF19: The Promise of Psychedelics

On Nov. 16, 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or “acid,” for the first time while working for Sandoz Laboratories. Although he succeeded, he put his discovery aside. Five years later, while revisiting the experiment, he accidentally absorbed some of it through his fingertips and experienced transcendence. Three days later he intentionally ingested 250 micrograms (0.25 milligrams) and proceeded to ride his bicycle home from his lab accompanied by his laboratory assistant. That day, April 19, is now known by psychedelic enthusiasts as Bicycle Day, or the day that the first acid trip took place.

For the next 25 years, psychedelics were a huge part of psychiatric study in both Europe and the U.S. More often than not, LSD showed positive effects in those who had taken it – one study in the 1950s conducted by psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond showed a 50 percent success rate in a group of recovering alcoholics who had not been able to quit drinking through any other means. However, at some point, the drug escaped the labs and made its way into the hands of not only the general population, but also Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary who, according to author Michael Pollan, became “the LSD evangelist.” Leary ended up being fired from Harvard due to his questionable research and promotion tactics (he was deemed the “most dangerous man in America” by then-president Nixon). Research into psychedelics all but ceased, and the war on drugs all but began.

That is, until fairly recently. Last Thursday night’s World Science Festival event, “Revealing the Mind: The Promise of Psychedelics,” consisted of four panelists discussing the pros – and cons – of psychedelics, which in one form or another have existed since human beings began keeping records. Moderated by Emily Senay, M.D., preventive medicine physician and assistant professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the event opened with an overview of the origins and evolution of psychedelics and how they affect the brain.

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Moderator Emily Senay speaking with the four expert panelists. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

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#WSF19: Risk-Taking in Extreme Sports

When we mere mortals watch extreme-sports athletes, many of us wonder: Is the risk worth the reward? What drives these risk-takers to put their lives in danger? Are we wired differently, or is it the culture one grows up in, or both? At Friday night’s World Science Festival event, “Risky-Business: the Evolution of Dangerous Behavior,” the panelists set out to answer these and other questions about human risk-taking.

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From left: David Sloan Wilson, Omer Mei-Dan, Cynthia Thomson, Abigail Marsh, and Bill Weir. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

Risk is subjective, agreed the panelists. If an athlete goes through the right training, then the act becomes less risky, said panelist Omer Mei-Dan, an orthopedic surgeon—and BASE jumper (wingsuit flying or parachuting from a fixed structure, often a cliff).

Take Alex Hunnold of the documentary “Free Solo” fame. Hunnold trained for two years before he scaled Yosemite’s 3,000-foot wall of El Capitan without ropes, said Mei-Dan. Now that certainly doesn’t guarantee success, but it did cement a familiarity with the terrain and establish a sense of confidence, he added. Continue reading

Three Science Contests to Enter Before Summer

Are you looking for ways to challenge yourself or stay involved in neuroscience research? If so, the Society for Neuroscience and the International Neuroethics Society are hosting a number of opportunities to share your work, network with experts, and even win cash prizes. The various deadlines are closing in, so don’t wait! Check out the following contests and presentations and learn how to enter:

Science Journalism Student Award

This year, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will award the Science Journalism Student Award to two ambitious undergraduate or graduate students who are pursuing a science or medical journalism degree. Award recipients will not only get complimentary registration to this year’s SfN Annual Meeting from October 19-23, they will receive four nights’ lodging in Chicago (where the meeting will take place) and a $750 stipend for meeting expenses. Additionally, the winners will be assigned a mentor who is an experienced professional journalist covering the annual meeting. The deadline for this competition has been extending to May 31—visit their website for details on how to apply.

Brain Awareness Video Contest

Another contest hosted by the Society for Neuroscience is the 2019 Brain Awareness Video Contest. You don’t have to be a scientist to enter—just someone with a great idea on how to share the wonders of science through a short animation, song, or skit. The first-place winner will receive $1,000 plus travel, two-nights lodging, and registration to the annual Neuroscience 2019 in Chicago. Second and third place will also receive cash prizes, and there’s even a chance a to win $500 as the “People’s Choice” prize. The submission deadline is June 13, and be sure to read the rules and regulations before entering.

Neuroethics Call for Abstracts

Over the next few weeks, the International Neuroethics Society (INS) is expecting to receive upwards of 100 abstracts from researchers around the world. The abstract presentations are a vital feature of the INS Annual Meeting, where a diverse group of scholars, scientists, clinicians, and professionals gather to share their dedication to the responsible use of advances in brain science. Presenting your abstract provides a great opportunity to showcase your work with international colleagues. Don’t wait too long; the deadline to submit your neuroethics research is June 24. Review the call for abstracts for full details.

Below, see the first-place winner for last year’s Brain Awareness Video Contest by Bradley Allf, a laboratory technician at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Spring into Action on National Senior Health & Fitness Day!

If you were looking for a reason to start your day with pep in your step, look no further because today is the 26th annual Senior Health & Fitness Day! Join more than 120,000 older adults at over 1,200 participating locations embracing the benefits of physical activity and celebrating Older Americans Month.

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Photo: Shutterstock

The benefits of exercise are many-fold: it can boost mood and reduce the risk of depression, lower the risk of falls and fall-related injuries, reduce the risk of dementia, and potentially slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults. The Dana Foundation’s publication, “Successful Aging & Your Brain,” a resource on staying sharp as we age, notes that according to many experts, regular exercise is the single most important thing we can do to improve overall health and prevent disease. Continue reading

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