Changing the World with Smartphones

“We are wildly ambitious,” Tom Insel, M.D., says when asked about his plans for Verily Life Sciences, a research organization parented by Google. After 13 years, Insel rocked the world of brain science when he announced plans to step down as director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in late 2015. His departure from NIMH, however, wasn’t a leave from neuroscience research or public health; it was a progressive step towards advancing the technologies that are predicted to transform mental health care.

Recently, Insel was profiled in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic, which offers a thorough look at the trajectory that took him from lead role at the world’s largest mental health research institution to complete submersion in the energetic tech bubble of Silicon Valley.

The article recounts Insel’s early work in behavioral research, as well as his influence on the field of antidepressants and NIMH’s involvement in clinical drug trials. Presented with an opportunity to direct a new mental health team under Google, he could now focus on taking applied research and use it to help millions of people globally, who are in need of mental health care. “At any given moment, roughly one in seven of the world’s 7.5 billion people is struggling with mental illness. ‘We’re not going to reach all those people by hiring more psychiatrists,’ says Insel. But we might reach them with smartphones.”

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Digital Health Awards Winner

healthawardswinner

The Dana Foundation’s Successful Aging & Your Brain PSA has won a Silver Award in the Digital Health Awards Spring 2017 competition! The video features a 90-second animation with four factors on how to live a brain healthy life. The award was submitted under the Educational Institution section and the Web-based Resource category.

The Digital Health Awards recognizes high-quality health resources for consumers and health professionals. Submissions were judged by a panel of health technology professionals and graded based on content, format, success in reaching the targeted health audience, and overall quality. The awards program is organized by the Health Information Resource Center, a clearinghouse for professionals who work in consumer health fields.

 

Sound Health: Music and the Mind

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Kennedy Center for the Arts have teamed up to explore the connections among music, the brain, and human wellness. The idea for the “Sound Health” partnership came up in conversations between NIH director Francis Collins and renowned soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor Renée Fleming. In March NIH hosted a science workshop, where researchers shared what they know about sound and sense with Fleming and other musicians, scientists, and music therapists. This past weekend, they moved to the Kennedy Center for a shared performance with the National Symphony Orchestra and a day of talk and music-making for the general public.

Bone flute from Geissenklösterle, a cave in Germany. Photo by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez

“Music is a critical part in understanding how the brain works,” Collins said on Friday. It’s likely that early people made music before developing formal language–we’ve found  flutes that are more than 35,000 years old. “It’s critical to understanding” how the oldest circuits in our brains work, and it can add “new and stronger scientific basis” to the range of techniques that music therapists use to help people recover from stroke, trauma, chronic pain, and other maladies.

All the Saturday events except a kids’ movement workshop were recorded; I’m including them here. They are all worth a watch or two, with engaging scientists talking interspersed with great musicians performing. Together they add up to more than seven hours, so take your time! I’m listing them in the order of the day, but if you want the general overview, skip down to “The Future of Music and the Mind” (but that is the only one without a musical performance).

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New Method Reaches Deep in the Brain Without Surgery

A team of neuroscientists and engineers are working to develop a new form of treatment for people who have Parkinson’s disease, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to a recent New York Times article, the available methods for treating these conditions currently involve the risks of surgery and can have limited ability with directing electrical pulses to the right areas of the brain.

Dana Alliance member Helen Mayberg, tells the Times:

They have this clever new way to deliver current[s] to a spot of interest deep in the brain and do it without invading the brain…If you didn’t have to actually open up somebody’s brain and put something in it, if it could do what we’re doing now just as well—sign me up.

So far the research has only been conducted in mice, but experts are hoping the technique will work for people, too. “This is something that many of us in the field have wished for for a long time,” says Alexander Rotenberg. Rotenberg is director of the neuromodulation program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The article goes on to explain the details of the non-invasive treatment:

The method, called temporal interference, involves beaming different electric frequencies, too high for neurons to respond to, from electrodes on the skull’s surface. The team found that where the currents intersected inside the brain, the frequencies interfered with each other, essentially canceling out all but the difference between them and leaving a low-frequency current that neurons in that location responded to.

For more information on the experimental study, read the full article here.

– Seimi Rurup

Exploring the Geography of the Brain

Early world explorers worked with crude maps, painfully charting the geography of new locations for future generations. Today, anyone can log on to the internet for detailed descriptions of the countries, cities, and roads of our world. In comparison, the map of the brain still has a long way to go. In fact, a map of the brain made over 100 years ago is still being used by neuroscientists today.

Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome,” a discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City, focused on efforts by neuroscientists to create new, more detailed maps of the brain. Deanna Barch, Washington University School of Medicine; Nim Tottenham, Columbia University; Dana Alliance member Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University; and Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Washington University, formed the expert panel.

wsf_connectome

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