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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Ethics in Practice: DBS for Depression

new-ins-logo“When I am depressed, everything—standing, stepping, speaking, moving, pursuing a train of thought—gets hung up on that loop…that ends up feeling like paralysis. I can’t. I want to. I can’t. If I finally do break free, my sense of self gets left behind. It’s as if momentum comes at the cost of identity.”

Neuroscientist Helen Mayberg gave this quote, from an anonymous patient trying to describe what life was like before her depression was treated with deep brain stimulation (DBS), at the final session of the 2016 International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting, in San Diego on Friday. Mayberg was one of three panelists offering the audience different perspectives of using the experimental and invasive implantation (it requires surgery deep into the brain) for depression. Philosopher Sarah Goering spoke about the ethical concerns from patients who utilize DBS devices, and neuroscience writer Mo Costandi discussed how DBS is represented in mass media.

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Competing Perspectives in Neuroethics

new-ins-logoThe Friday morning panel at the International Neuroethics Society (INS) annual meeting invited four speakers from four backgrounds–medicine, law, social sciences, and philosophy–to discuss the competing perspectives in neuroethics. Each panelist gave a short presentation on how their discipline approaches neuroethics, but the heart of the discussion came in the question and answer session with the audience where they delved into the opportunities and pitfalls of having such a highly diverse field.

Because it’s a relatively new field with impressive disciplinary diversity, there is no defined career path for a neuroethicist. A graduate student looking to pursue a neuroethics career earnestly asked the panel how he should do so, since many established in the field had rather circuitous paths to the profession.

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The Ethics of Emerging Technologies

Large crowd for the event, which was open to the public.

Large crowd for the event, which was open to the public.

At last night’s International Neuroethics Society public program, we heard from eight speakers on the ethics of emerging technologies, addressing the potential benefits and risks they raise when applied to health care.

Kate Darling, a specialist in human-robot interaction at MIT, talked about her experience with robots and her hopes and concerns for mainstream integration. She opened her presentation with a personal story from 2007, when she became the owner of a baby dinosaur robot, the size of a small cat, that responded to touch. She would often show it off to friends, demonstrating how it cried when she held it upside down. After a while, though, Darling began to notice that it upset her to hear it cry.

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The Ethics of Genetic Technologies

On Thursday, Dana Alliance member Steven E. Hyman helped the International Neuroethics Society (INS) kick off its annual meeting in San Diego. INS President and fellow Dana Alliance member Judy Illes welcomed attendees and introduced Hyman, who opened the program with his presentation titled, “Emerging Genetics of Human Cognition and Behavior: New Challenges for Ethics and Policy.”

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Steven Hyman, M.D.

“Scientists always knew that genetics would help us,” he began, “but the trouble was that it is fiendishly complex, and the technology was, at the time, unavailable…I truly didn’t expect to live long enough to see [it] develop.”

With the commencement of the Human Genome Project, technologies were suddenly available that allowed scientists to yield information crucial to the sequencing and mapping of all genes. In that same decade, he commented, the BRAIN Initiative and stem cell technologies were also developed, adding another feat to neuroscience research. With this, Hyman said, it suddenly became possible to fundamentally try to understand schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other nervous system diseases, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and so on.

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