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.”

Last year Cerebrum published “Gut Feelings on Parkinson’s and Depression,”  an article by Ted Dinan and John Cryan, researchers at the University of Cork in Ireland,  that focused on microbiota’s emerging role in trying to solve the puzzle that could lead to treatment. We also published “A Smell Test for Parkinson’s,” an article about the growing role of olfactory in diagnosing the disease.

Alda told CBS that one of the reasons he decided to reveal that he was living with Parkinson’s was that he had been on television a lot in the last few weeks talking about Clear + Vivid, his new podcast. He noticed watching himself that his thumb was twitching and felt that “it’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view, but that’s not where I am.”

All of us at the Dana Foundation are rooting hard for Alda—and know that he will continue to serve as a role model to others with Parkinson’s or any other potentially debilitating neurological disorder.

— Bill Glovin

Sparking an Interest in Science

alanalda 2 crop

Earlier this year, Alda gave a lecture at Columbia University on the importance of accessible science. Photo credit: Eileen Barroso, Columbia University

When actor Alan Alda was 11 years old he asked his teacher, “What is a flame?” Her reply: “It’s oxidation,” which was an explanation that was neither accessible nor interesting to him. It was this encounter that inspired him to create a competition to help 11-year-olds understand science in a way that makes sense to them.

Continue reading

Dana News E-Blast: May

Below is last week’s Dana news email blast. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

The Power of Tau

CerebrumAprilImage

by Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

Tau protein helps nerve cells in the brain maintain their function and structure. When tau turns toxic, replicates, and spreads, neurons misfire and die. If neuroscientists can pinpoint the reasons for toxicity, identify possible modified tau states, and find a way to block tau’s movement from cell to cell, then progress can be made in fighting any number of neurological disorders. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas. Continue reading

Alda Crushes It

As editor of Cerebrum, the online neuroscience journal for The Dana Foundation, a primary function of my role is to invite some of the world’s top neuroscientists to write articles (with citations) to explain the latest developments in their specialty areas to lay readers. If they agree to the assignment, I encourage them to use conversational language, anecdotes, storytelling, and their own voice in communicating what are often complex and hard-to-explain topics: tau protein, grid cells, circadian rhythm, and stem cells—to name just a few. Sometimes they get it; more often they do not.

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

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

That’s a huge part of the reason I was so captivated by Alan Alda’s recent lecture at Columbia University. Alda is on a mission to make science as accessible to the public as baseball or bacon.  His lecture, entitled “Getting Behind a Blind Date with Science,” was co- sponsored by Dana and the Kavli Foundation, with introductory remarks by Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, Ph.D., co-director of the university’s Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute.

Continue reading

World Science Festival: What is Color?

“What is Color?” was the dominant question submitted by more than 26,000 curious eleven-year olds around the world in this year’s Flame Challenge, issued by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. The Challenge asks scientists to answer the chosen question in a manner understandable and engaging to eleven-year olds (past questions were: What is a Flame? What is Time?), and this year, almost 400 scientists responded. The 2014 winners were announced on Sunday.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: