SfN Discussion Centers on Youth Football

On an early Sunday afternoon a few blocks away from the Society for Neuroscience Conference at the San Diego Convention Center, sports bars packed with football fans watched their heroes bang heads playing the most popular sport in America. Inside the center, four neuroscientists who specialize in head trauma and a former NFL player talked about the complex issues of concussion and multiple impacts to the brain in football, others sports, military service, and in random accidents.

“Here is an October 9 New York Times article about Jordan Reed, a tight end for the Washington Redskins, who sustained his sixth concussion and pondered whether if and when he should return to the field,” Harry Levin, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor University, enlarged on a screen. “Six is too many, and he ended up missing only two games.”

“Did he have come back too soon?” asked Levin. The answer, to the frustration of athletes, their families, and neuroscientists head trauma researchers is: We really don’t know.

While the roundtable discussion, “Concussion: From the Players’ Experience to the Future of Research,” offered compelling data on the scope of concussion and mild head trauma by gender, age, and circumstance, the speakers emphasized that in light of heightened awareness and the challenges facing researchers about quantifying the dangers, making public policy decisions is purely speculative and premature. [See full video of the discussion, below.]

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Norbert Myslinski Receives SfN Science Educator Award

Dr. Norbert Myslinski and Brain Bee competitors get ready for the anatomy quiz portion of the US national bee contest, in Baltimore in 2008.

Dr. Norbert Myslinski and Brain Bee competitors get ready for the anatomy quiz portion of the US national finals, in Baltimore in 2008.

Each year at its annual meeting, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Dr. Norbert Myslinski, professor of Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and founder of the International Brain Bee.

Q: Was it a conscious decision to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Dr. Norbert Myslinski: My growth in neuroscience education was an evolutionary process from the very beginning. Inspiration was all around me throughout life. My grandfather who fled Poland just before World War I and my father who fought in World War II taught me how precious life was. My religious educators in elementary and high school; my psychology teacher at Canisius College, Dr. Donald L. Tollefson; my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Illinois, Dr. Edmund G. Anderson; all gave me a life-long fascination with the human brain and mind. Brain disorders in my family made me determined to find cures: My wife died of a brain tumor; my father suffered from Guillain–Barré syndrome and died of a stroke; my brother suffers from spinal cord injury and polyneuroma; my cousins are victims of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, autism, and drug addiction; and my mother lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Early in my research career I realized that finding cures for these disorders needed not only funds, but also a steady stream of young dedicated scientists. In the last century, neuroscience education was not a priority in our schools and society, but I soon made it a priority of mine.

Q. The Brain Bee, which you started in 1998 in North America, is now an international success. How did you scale the project up, or was the growth more organic?

brainbeelogo-200A. The idea of the Brain Bee started in my basement. When the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives initiated Brain Awareness Week (BAW), I felt that the Brain Bee would be an excellent way to inspire and motivate young men and women to pursue careers in neuroscience. It would be a fun competition that was challenging but not overwhelming. Its first year in Maryland was a big success. I then contacted 12 other directors of BAW activities in the United States and Canada and created a network of Brain Bees and a second level international championship. Soon other countries such as India and Australia joined. So many other countries joined that we had to add an intermediate national level of competition. All the national champions are now invited to the World Championship that is held in a different country annually. Through the years, Florence, Italy; Cape Town, South Africa; Cairns, Australia; Vienna, Austria; Toronto, Canada; Copenhagen, Denmark; Washington, DC, and others have been venues for the World Championship. We have now grown to more than 50 countries.

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Brain Game Setback

cere_110114_article_featTwo years ago we published a Cerebrum article, “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Training Really Sharpen the Mind?” Complicating the issue for our co-authors, Walter R. Boot and Arthur F. Kramer—both neuroscientists who had spent years studying cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and aging—were two open letters to the neuroscience community from more than one-hundred scientists, one objecting to effectiveness claims made by brain-game companies and the other a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base.

Near the end of a Q&A with Boot and Kramer following the article’s publication, Boot predicted that “maybe in ten years we might know enough to make more definitive recommendations.”

Boot’s prediction was reaffirmed earlier this week with the publishing of a comprehensive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain games in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Seven scientists, including Boot, reviewed more than 130 studies of brain games and other forms of cognitive training. The evaluation included studies of products from industry giant Lumosity.

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New Cerebrum Podcast: The Human Connectome Project

In our September Cerebrum article, “The Human Connectome Project: Progress and Prospects,” David Van Essen, Ph.D., and Matthew Glasser, Ph.D., write about an ambitious six-year collaboration between neuroscientists at various institutions to map the brain with the help of 1,200 volunteers and ever evolving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. In this new podcast, the pair discuss their role, some of the unexpected surprises, and what they hope to discover in the project’s next phase.

Malaria Treatment Shows Promise

This week, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a study that addresses cerebral malaria, an illness that affects one percent of the 216 million people diagnosed with malaria globally each year. Led by neuroscientist Ana Rodriguez, Ph.D., the study was partially funded by a three-year grant from the Dana Foundation in 2009, as part of the now discontinued Neuroimmunology program.

Rodriguez and her team at NYU Langone Medical Center found that by combining the standard treatment of malaria (a drug called chloroquine) with two different types of drugs used to treat hypertension, the survival rate of infected mice more than tripled.

In an article highlighting the study, Rodriguez says:

About one in five patients with cerebral malaria die within 48 hours of being admitted to the hospital, and the time it takes for the parasite-killing drug to take effect…If we could add a drug that stopped hemorrhages during that window, it would buy time and save lives.

To read the press release detailing this study, click here.

– Seimi Rurup

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