Aphasia Awareness Month Interview with Kenneth Heilman, M.D.

For a devastating language disorder that affects almost two million people in the US alone, about 85 percent of people in a national survey have never heard the term “aphasia.” More common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, it does not discriminate according to age, race, or gender. With June being Aphasia Awareness Month, we asked Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D., to help us get the word out.

Heilman, who is an expert in language and speech disorders, was Chief of Medicine at NATO Hospital in Turkey during the Vietnam War and currently is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Florida (UF) and a staff neurologist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Heilman has also been a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives since 2003.

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Photo courtesy of Kenneth Heilman

Aphasia is more common than other well-known brain disorders, with an estimated 180,000 people predicted to develop it each year. Why do people know so little about it? Continue reading

And All That Jazz: A Q&A with Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D.

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

Famed artist Barbara Januszkiewicz once said, “Jazz is the art of thinking out loud.” Is it any wonder then that jazz has made its way into a variety of neuroscience laboratories to help researchers investigate the neural underpinnings of creativity, communication, and timing?

In honor of International Jazz Day, a day designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate jazz’ ability to connect people from all over the globe, Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D. , a neurologist at Columbia University (and jazz guitar player), shares his thoughts about jazz, timing, and the celebration of what our brains do each and every day in the service of cognition.

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Photo: Michael Shadlen

You are a jazz guitarist. What first got you interested in playing jazz music?

MS: I’ve always been interested in music. When I was younger, I played the violin. Later, I switched to guitar—mainly because my violin teacher wanted me to choose between basketball, girls, and violin. So I switched to guitar. I played in a rock band for a long time doing covers. We had the Bar Mitzvah circuit down!

But the drummer in our band was in the jazz band in high school. And he turned me on to it. We’d go to this amazing café called Amazing Grace in Evanston, Illinois. They had mostly folk music but also a lot of jazz acts. I remember seeing Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and all kinds of amazing artists play there. It was pretty spectacular.

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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

#Brainweek Partner Interview: Rebeca Toledo Cárdenas

This is the third and final interview in a series of Brain Awareness Week partner Q&As, in which partners share their experiences and tips for planning successful events. Dra. Ma. Rebeca Toledo Cárdenas is a professor and researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones Cerebrales at the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico.

Rebeca Toledo1Last year, the Centro de Investigaciones Cerebrales of the Universidad Veracruzana celebrated its tenth anniversary as a Brain Awareness Week partner. Can you tell us how you celebrated and what kind of events were held?

The organization of this program began with the consensus and participation of all the researchers at the Centro de Investigaciones Cerebrales of Universidad Veracruzana (CICE-UV), as well as an important group of enthusiastic graduate and undergraduate students. This teamwork has allowed us to remain in the presence of the public during these ten years.

The organization of “Brain Awareness Week, Xalapa, 2017″ began in January of the same year, with the organization of the working groups, invitations to participating speakers, and the logistics to use the facilities for the event. Xalapa was one of the 20 Mexican cities to organize Brain Awareness Week and remains the only city in the state of Veracruz to organize a program with the support of the Universidad Veracruzana.

Our program was attended by special guests from the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP). We also had an important group of students, administrative support staff, and volunteers from the Universidad Veracruzana. Under the title “10 Years Celebrating the Brain,” we spoke about the magnificence of our brains, explaining the set of scientific disciplines that study the structure and function of the organ.

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Poster for the tenth anniversary of Brain Awareness Week in Xalapa. Photo courtesy of Universidad Veracruzana.

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Interview with Science Cheerleader Hilary Nicholson

Science Cheerleaders is an organization that works to confront stereotypes around cheerleaders and academics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Members travel around the country to speak at schools, festivals, sports games, on TV, and more, to help connect groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. We spoke with member and national coordinator, Hilary Nicholson, Ph.D., who is currently a medical oncology research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. Nicholson completed her Ph.D. at Brown University, where she also coached cheerleaders for the Brown Bears football team.

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Nicholson in her Ph.D. lab at Brown University.

1. Can you explain the idea behind Science Cheerleaders and how you got involved?

HN: The Science Cheerleaders are a group of over 300 current and former professional and collegiate cheerleaders who also have advanced degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. We aim to playfully challenge stereotypes surrounding what a scientist looks like and who can be an engineer, programmer, mathematician, etc., while also encouraging young girls to become engaged in STEM through citizen science projects and serving as role models ourselves.

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