Remembering Breakthroughs

A New York Times profile earlier this week on Brenda A. Milner, Sc.D., credited her with changing “the course of brain science for good as a newly minted Ph.D. in the 1950s by identifying the specific brain organ that is crucial to memory formation.”

Milner

Photo credit: Owen Egan; Courtesy of the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University

Milner, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member, identified the hippocampus and other areas of the brain that process memory while working with Henry Molaison, more commonly known as H.M., who developed amnesia at age 29 from the removal of tissue from both his medial temporal lobes, a surgery that was supposed to alleviate his epilepsy.

With the help of H.M., Milner discovered that memory was processed in the medial temporal lobes, which was why he could no longer form new long-term memories. He was, however, able to learn new tasks, meaning he must remember the actions in another part of the brain. His ability to acquire new skills proved to Milner there are two types of memory that occur in different parts of the brain – explicit memory, which recalls describable details like facts and events, and implicit memory, for unconscious memories such as actions and procedures. Milner described this finding in a 2010 Dana Foundation interview:

I went to the McGill psychology department and borrowed learning tasks to give him [H.M]. I took down a maze task, which I was sure he wouldn’t learn, and he didn’t. It was a nice control test, because he showed absolutely no progress over three days. Then I gave him the mirror drawing task. H.M. did 30 trials over three days and at the end of the last trial, his performance was absolutely perfect. I can still remember him looking at what he had drawn, saying: “This is strange. I thought this would be difficult, but it looks as though I’ve done it rather well.” I was very excited because it showed that he could have this excellent performance without any awareness that the reason he was doing so well was that he had had the chance to practice the task over three days.

When I saw that H.M.  had this beautiful learning of something he had no memory of having acquired, I then speculated that this task, which involved motor learning, depended on a different system in the brain. His surgeon had damaged his medial temporal system, but this was a kind of learning that was unaffected by this operation, so therefore it must involve other structures.

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2017 Brain Awareness Video Contest

If you love crafting video ideas and have a passion for neuroscience, then the Brain Awareness Video Contest is just for you! The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) hosts the video challenge each year for those interested in developing a creative way to explain a brain-related concept. The best part is, anyone can enter!

Applicants have the opportunity to work directly with a member of SfN to sponsor and produce an educational video (the online entry form can only be submitted by a member of SfN). The first place winner will receive $1,000 and a trip to SfN’s 2017 annual neuroscience conference in Washington, DC, where the video will be presented. All submissions are due on June 15—so you have exactly one month left!

Last year’s first place price went to Akshay Balaji, a high school student from Virginia, for his video titled, “Hearing Red, Tasting Blue: When the Senses Mix!”

If you’re interested in entering the contest, please read the guidelines carefully. To watch past winning submissions for inspiration, click here. Good luck!

Diamond in the Rough World of Neuroscience

We have the ability to change our brains. Throughout life, even into old age, new neural connections can be formed. However, the idea the brain can change, called brain plasticity, is relatively new. Before 1963, scientists theorized that the brain remained static after birth and environment played no role in its potential.

The woman who changed the conversation around brain plasticity, Marian Diamond, professor emerita of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley, was the subject of “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond,” a documentary that aired this week on PBS.

Diamond focused on proving that the brain is shaped by environment, not just genetics. She performed an experiment where one group of rats were kept in enriched cages, with toys and other rats to socialize with, while another group lived in impoverished cages, with no other rats or objects to interact with. Rats housed in enriched cages had brains that were six percent larger than the rats in impoverished cages. She reacted to this finding by running across the campus to tell her research partner the results. “This will change science,” he told her. And it did.

Diamond-2.jpg

Photo courtesy of Luna Productions

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Brainworks Video Nominated for 2017 Emmy Award

Last year, the Dana Foundation partnered with Eric Chudler, Ph.D., from the University of Washington to produce a video to educate kids about the wonders of neuroscience, and just last week, it was nominated for a 2017 Northwest Emmy Award!

Chudler is the executive director of the university’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, and as the host and executive producer of “Brainworks: Exercise and the Brain,” he leads students through various experiments and a meeting with molecular biologist John J. Medina, Ph.D., to learn more about the cognitive benefits of exercise. To watch the video in full, see below:

 

 

A Day in the Life of Successful Aging & Your Brain!

For Brain Awareness Week, the Dana Foundation presented a Successful Aging & Your Brain (SA&YB) program, alongside AARP Orlando and Telemundo, at Engelwood Neighborhood Center in Orlando, FL.

Ambrosio J. Romero, M.D., F.A.A.F.P, discussed how memory is affected as one ages, what types of diseases exist and how to avoid them, and what you can do to age healthily. Check out the video to see a day in the life of our SA&YB events!

– Ali Chunovic

 

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