National Book Lovers Day

CerebrumPool

Enjoy your copy of Cerebrum poolside. Available for purchase on Amazon.

Maybe it’s from years of school-encouraged summer reading lists, but this season always ignites a desire in me to read more books and to ask friends for recommendations. And it just so happens that August celebrates National Book Lovers Day–today! For fellow book lovers, and particularly those who want to learn more about the brain, I can point to some Dana Foundation resources that offer suggestions.

Cerebrum, our monthly online journal of timely ideas in neuroscience, has an accompanying podcast and a yearly printed anthology, but did you know it also publishes quarterly book reviews? Recently reviewed books include Howard I. Kushner’s On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History, Matthieu Ricard and‎ Wolf Singer’s Beyond the Self: Conversations between Buddhism and Neuroscience, and Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. All reviews are written by neuroscientists with an understanding of the chosen topic.

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Living with Parkinson’s

Alan Alda at Columbia cropped

Best known for M*A*S*H*, Alan Alda has also appeared in 48 films, on Broadway, and written two books. Photo credit: Eileen Barroso, Columbia University

It was hard to miss Alan Alda’s announcement this week on CBS This Morning that the legendary actor had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than three years ago. Alda, 82, said one of the reasons he was speaking out was to offer a message of hope to people who are living with the disease: “In the very beginning, to be immobilized by fear and think the worst thing has happened to you – it hasn’t happened to you. You still have things you can do. I’m taking boxing lessons three times a week. I do singles tennis a couple of times a week. I march to Sousa music because marching to music is good for Parkinson’s.”

Through the years, our Dana Foundation publications have often focused on both Parkinson’s disease and Alda’s passion to better communicate science to the public, which is part of our mission as well.

In 2015, about the same time that Alda learned he had Parkinson’s, I wrote “Alda Crushes It,” a blog on Alda’s lecture at Columbia University, entitled “Getting Behind a Blind Date with Science.” In this captivating lecture, co-sponsored by Dana and the Kavli Foundation, he talked about why he had co-founded his own center for science communication at Stony Brook University and how he had been inspired by his time as host of Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS program that explored any number of topics. He was engaging, insightful, and his enthusiasm was contagious.

A year later the publication I edit, Cerebrum, reviewed Alda’s new book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face. We asked Eric Chudler, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington and the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering in Seattle, to tell us what he thought. Chudler wrote: “With humor and a clear, concise, and never stilted writing style, Alda takes readers on his journey to help experts convey neuroscience and other complex scientific topics to a variety of audiences.”

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From the Archives: Finding the Hurt in Pain

Pain has many varieties, and is notoriously difficult to describe, but in recent years researchers have made some progress in trying to measure it. A story in the New Yorker this summer by Nicola Twilley, “The Neuroscience of Pain,” describes the quest “to capture the experience in quantifiable, objective data,” especially imaging data.

Irene_TraceyTwilley details the research life of Irene Tracey at University of Oxford, including tools in her lab’s “pain room”: “All of them have been designed with the aim of reliably producing in laboratory conditions sensations that hurt enough to mirror real life but don’t cause lasting harm, which would be unethical. A scientist hoping to gather publishable data can’t just hit someone with a hammer and hope that each blow is as hard as the last one, even if an institutional ethics committee would permit such a thing.”

Tracey wrote a piece for us for Cerebrum in December 2016, “Finding the Hurt in Pain,” reviewing what we know so far about pain, including how mood affects it, the role of placebos, and potential neuroethical issues. One big change in recent decades is how we consider chronic pain, she writes:

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In Memoriam: Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson, a Pioneer in Parkinson’s Treatment

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Photo: Johan Wingborg/University of Gothenburg

We regret to announce the loss of Dana Alliance member Arvid Carlsson, M.D., Ph.D., who passed away last Friday at 95 years old. Carlsson laid the groundwork for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by discovering dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in motor function. In 2000, this research won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with fellow Dana Alliance members Eric R. Kandel, M.D., and Paul Greengard, Ph.D., “for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.”

In 2001, Dana Alliance member John H. Byrne, Ph.D., wrote a Dana Foundation Cerebrum article to commemorate the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He detailed Carlsson’s journey to his Nobel Prize winning research on dopamine:

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Gladwell Podcasts Examine Brain Issues

Dana_podcastIMAGE_finalAs neuroscience enthusiasts already know, there are countless podcasts out there about brain-related topics. To inform my Cerebrum podcasts, I’ve sampled many of them to pick up tips on how to explain research that can often be complex and difficult to understand.

One such podcast that does a masterful job of explaining both chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and false memory is Revisionist History, a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, a former New Yorker staff writer and the author of Tipping Point, Blink, and other New York Times best seller nonfiction works. The podcast labels itself as a “journey through the overlooked and misunderstood.”

The CTE episode, entitled “Burden of Proof,” focuses on Owen Thomas, a captain of the University of Pennsylvania football team who committed suicide several years ago. Gladwell builds the episode from a talk on the topic of “proof” that he gave to students at Penn in 2013. He used CTE, a neurodegenerative disease found in people who have had multiple head injuries, to make his point.

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