The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

barbara lipska

Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum

On a recent night at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, neuroscientist Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., sat down with journalist Jake Halpern as part of the museum’s annual Brainwave series. The discussion gave audience members the unique opportunity to hear a lucid perspective of what it’s like to experience psychosis. The interview was also particularly intimate because, in addition to his successful career as a writer, Halpern also happens to be Lipska’s son-in-law. His questions stemmed from firsthand experiences he shared with her as she battled malignant brain tumors that caused the psychotic episodes and nearly took her life.

As director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, Lipska studies schizophrenia by analyzing postmortem brain dissections and observing the behavior of rats that have a disconnection between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. “They’re actually not as different as we would like to think,” she said of the rats. “They’re smaller, that’s for sure, and they don’t have this convoluted frontal cortex. But they are very intelligent animals, and they know what they have to do to get a reward.”

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Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month

It’s not a common household word, or a name that spends a lot of time in the limelight, but myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that affects approximately 20 out of 100,000 people in the US. According to experts at the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America (MGFA), this disease is “considered under-diagnosed and the prevalence is thought to be much higher.” With June being Myasthenia Gravis Awareness month, our goal is to help inform the public about the disease by sharing verified facts and resources for further information.

The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, literally means “grave muscle weakness.” It is often referred to as “the snowflake disease” because no two cases are identical. The degree of muscle weakness and general symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient, but common signs include drooping of the eyelid, blurred or double vision, slurred speech, and difficulty chewing or swallowing. The neuromuscular disorder is caused by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles, and muscle weakness tends to worsen as the affected muscle is used repeatedly. While MG can affect people at any age regardless of gender or ethnicity, women most commonly experience first symptoms in their 20s and 30s while men are generally affected later in their 70s or older. Avoiding stress and having a well-balanced diet can help improve conditions.

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Stress and the Brain

Didn’t sleep well last night? Your immune system may be in overdrive today, starting or continuing a cascade of stressors that could spell ill for your body and brain.

kiecolt-glaser-OSU

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser

“If you didn’t sleep, if you had a tired night, your IL-6 levels are higher today,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University. IL-6 (Interleukin 6) triggers inflammatory and auto-immune processes that protect the body, but too much response has been linked to such diseases as diabetes, atherosclerosis, lupus, arthritis, and anxiety and depression.

Kiecolt-Glaser stepped through several studies and reviews of research on immune reactions to stress during the forum “Stressing About Stress–What Our Minds and Bodies are Going Through and Ways to Cope” at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

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MIT Highlights Work of Dana Grantee J. Christopher Love

Last week, MIT released a new piece highlighting the work of Dana grantee J. Christopher Love, Ph.D. Dr. Love received a Dana grant in 2009 through one of the Foundation’s former programs, Human Immunology, for his project entitled Single-Cell Microtools for Profiling Human Immune Responses to HIV.

He and his colleagues have uncovered some important aspects about how T cells respond to HIV, which may help researchers develop an HIV vaccine in the future. Their research was first published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

–Caitlin Schneider

From the Archives: Ralph Steinman

When I woke up yesterday morning and turned on my radio, I was excited to find out that noted immunologist and long-time Dana consultant Ralph Steinman had won the Nobel Prize for medicine. What my colleagues and I did not discover until a few hours later was that Dr. Steinman had died three days earlier, four-and-a-half years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Steinman

In honor of Dr. Steinman, the latest From the Archives feature is a profile of him written by Web Editor Nicky Penttila after he was awarded the prestigious Lasker Prize in 2007. Here is an excerpt about his early research:

In the 1970s, when Steinman started his research career, researchers knew about the "musician" cells and they knew about infections. But in their laboratories, they could not seem to energize the immune cells to react to the infections. A link was missing, some cell in the immune-system soup that flipped the immune system cells on, and on in the right direction. They called the cells they were looking for "accessory cells."

Steinman was working in the lab of the late Zanvil Cohn at Rockefeller University, an expert in the physiology of macrophages, which were considered to be a leading candidate for the missing accessory cells.  "We looked at the populations [of cells] that were the source of the accessory cells," Steinman says. Using spleen tissue from mice, "we found unusual cells that had never been seen before; they were tree-like in shape. Hence the name we gave them, dendritic, from the Greek word for tree."

You can also read Dr. Steinman’s columns from the 2007-2010 issues of Immunology in the News—no one could write about immunology more clearly than he could.

Dr. Steinman was a brilliant scientist, extraordinary communicator, and wonderful person. We will miss him.

–Johanna Goldberg

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