Global Mental Health and Neuroscience: Challenges and Opportunities

Sheckar Saxena at SfN, November 2016

Sheckar Saxena at SfN, November 2016

“When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries. A country that does not look after the treatment of more than 50 percent of people with depression living in that country, a country that allows a million people to stay in prisons when suffering from mental disorders, is it a country that can be called a developed country for mental disorders or mental health? You answer that.” –Shekhar Saxena, November 2016

This past August, Patricio V. Marquez and Shekhar Saxena wrote for Cerebrum on making mental health a global priority. This month, Saxena, a psychiatrist and director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization, spelled out the challenges and opportunities during a discussion at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). Continue reading

Music and the Arts Promote Heathy Cognitive Function

A session entitled “Arts, Music, and the Brain: How the Arts Influence Us from Youth to Maturity” drew a standing room only crowd in a late afternoon session on Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Four speakers came at the topic from slightly different angles. The common denominator: In addition to anecdotal evidence and common sense, improved imaging and sound wave technology has helped neuroscientists demonstrate that arts and music boost cognitive function across social economic class, age, gender, and ethnicity.

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SfN Discussion Centers on Youth Football

On an early Sunday afternoon a few blocks away from the Society for Neuroscience Conference at the San Diego Convention Center, sports bars packed with football fans watched their heroes bang heads playing the most popular sport in America. Inside the center, four neuroscientists who specialize in head trauma and a former NFL player talked about the complex issues of concussion and multiple impacts to the brain in football, others sports, military service, and in random accidents.

“Here is an October 9 New York Times article about Jordan Reed, a tight end for the Washington Redskins, who sustained his sixth concussion and pondered whether if and when he should return to the field,” Harry Levin, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor University, enlarged on a screen. “Six is too many, and he ended up missing only two games.”

“Did he have come back too soon?” asked Levin. The answer, to the frustration of athletes, their families, and neuroscientists head trauma researchers is: We really don’t know.

While the roundtable discussion, “Concussion: From the Players’ Experience to the Future of Research,” offered compelling data on the scope of concussion and mild head trauma by gender, age, and circumstance, the speakers emphasized that in light of heightened awareness and the challenges facing researchers about quantifying the dangers, making public policy decisions is purely speculative and premature. [See full video of the discussion, below.]

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Norbert Myslinski Receives SfN Science Educator Award

Dr. Norbert Myslinski and Brain Bee competitors get ready for the anatomy quiz portion of the US national bee contest, in Baltimore in 2008.

Dr. Norbert Myslinski and Brain Bee competitors get ready for the anatomy quiz portion of the US national finals, in Baltimore in 2008.

Each year at its annual meeting, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Dr. Norbert Myslinski, professor of Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and founder of the International Brain Bee.

Q: Was it a conscious decision to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Dr. Norbert Myslinski: My growth in neuroscience education was an evolutionary process from the very beginning. Inspiration was all around me throughout life. My grandfather who fled Poland just before World War I and my father who fought in World War II taught me how precious life was. My religious educators in elementary and high school; my psychology teacher at Canisius College, Dr. Donald L. Tollefson; my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Illinois, Dr. Edmund G. Anderson; all gave me a life-long fascination with the human brain and mind. Brain disorders in my family made me determined to find cures: My wife died of a brain tumor; my father suffered from Guillain–Barré syndrome and died of a stroke; my brother suffers from spinal cord injury and polyneuroma; my cousins are victims of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, autism, and drug addiction; and my mother lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Early in my research career I realized that finding cures for these disorders needed not only funds, but also a steady stream of young dedicated scientists. In the last century, neuroscience education was not a priority in our schools and society, but I soon made it a priority of mine.

Q. The Brain Bee, which you started in 1998 in North America, is now an international success. How did you scale the project up, or was the growth more organic?

brainbeelogo-200A. The idea of the Brain Bee started in my basement. When the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives initiated Brain Awareness Week (BAW), I felt that the Brain Bee would be an excellent way to inspire and motivate young men and women to pursue careers in neuroscience. It would be a fun competition that was challenging but not overwhelming. Its first year in Maryland was a big success. I then contacted 12 other directors of BAW activities in the United States and Canada and created a network of Brain Bees and a second level international championship. Soon other countries such as India and Australia joined. So many other countries joined that we had to add an intermediate national level of competition. All the national champions are now invited to the World Championship that is held in a different country annually. Through the years, Florence, Italy; Cape Town, South Africa; Cairns, Australia; Vienna, Austria; Toronto, Canada; Copenhagen, Denmark; Washington, DC, and others have been venues for the World Championship. We have now grown to more than 50 countries.

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Ethics in Practice: DBS for Depression

new-ins-logo“When I am depressed, everything—standing, stepping, speaking, moving, pursuing a train of thought—gets hung up on that loop…that ends up feeling like paralysis. I can’t. I want to. I can’t. If I finally do break free, my sense of self gets left behind. It’s as if momentum comes at the cost of identity.”

Neuroscientist Helen Mayberg gave this quote, from an anonymous patient trying to describe what life was like before her depression was treated with deep brain stimulation (DBS), at the final session of the 2016 International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting, in San Diego on Friday. Mayberg was one of three panelists offering the audience different perspectives of using the experimental and invasive implantation (it requires surgery deep into the brain) for depression. Philosopher Sarah Goering spoke about the ethical concerns from patients who utilize DBS devices, and neuroscience writer Mo Costandi discussed how DBS is represented in mass media.

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