From the Archives: The Promise of Ketamine

promiseofketamine.jpgThis month, the FDA approved the use of esketamine, a nasal spray based on the old anesthetic and once-popular club drug ketamine, to treat people with severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. It’s costly and entails visiting the doctor for four hours a week for four weeks, but it’s the first treatment in decades that works in a new way in the brain. That means it might reach the large number of people with depression who are not helped by drugs that target other brain functions.

Last March, Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., wrote for Cerebrum on “The Dazzling Promise of Ketamine,” exploring how the drug was validated as an antidepressant, how it works, and what it could mean for development of other drugs: Continue reading

Top 5 Dana Stories of 2018? From the Archives

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From the 2012 Cerebrum essay, “The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Photo: Getty Images

At www.dana.org, we have a deep archive of great stories about the brain and the people who study it, and thanks to the internet, none of it is further than a quick search away. When I checked the list of top stories from last year, I was pleased to see that you-all seem to like to read long stories—nearly all the top-read stories are in the longest format we post. But I was surprised that many of the stories are “classic” (i.e. way more than a few years old). This year we’ll be trying to figure out how to make our more-current stories on the same topics just as popular, but for now here are a few suggestions.

Here are the stories folks found most popular on www.dana.org last year.

1. Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse (Cerebrum, 2000)

Developmental neuropsychiatrist Martin H. Teicher describes how scientists are discovering startling connections between abuse of all kinds and both permanent debilitating changes in the brain and psychiatric problems ranging from panic attacks to post-traumatic stress. In these surprising physical consequences of psychological trauma, Teicher sees not only a wake-up call for our society but hope for new treatments. Continue reading

Eric Kandel is Alan Alda’s Podcast Guest

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Image courtesy of Alda Communication Training Co.

On the latest episode of the Clear + Vivid podcast, host Alan Alda, well-known actor, writer, and, in recent years, crusader of science outreach, sits down with old friend and Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Eric R. Kandel, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University and author of The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves. Kandel speaks to Alda about his work, the satisfaction of connecting with audiences, and fleeing Austria in the aftermath of its annexation to Nazi Germany.

The podcast focuses on communication and connection. It’s through conversations with individuals holding mastery in various fields that Alda guides the listener, stopping to appreciate peaks and valleys of the art form. In this, Alda and Nobel Laureate Kandel find and sustain a relaxed stride, offering listeners morsels of wisdom: The importance of being mindful of your audience, focusing on one person and changing your approach based on their responses (favorable or not); the role of laughter in forming connections; and the delicate dance of simplifying your ideas to a lay audience without treading on and distorting the science. Continue reading

From the Archives: Some Brain Science for #VideoGamesDay

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People are hungry for data about video games and the brain. One of our most popular stories, still consistently in the Top 10, is a longreads Cerebrum essay from back in 2009, “Video Games Affect the Brain—for Better and Worse.” Writer Douglas Gentile, Ph.D., concludes:

With the exception of educational games, most video games’ effects on brain and behavior are unintentional on the part of both the designers and the players. Nonetheless, research suggests that the effects are real. Video games are neither good nor bad. Rather, they are a powerful form of entertainment that does what good entertainment is supposed to do—it influences us.

In 2012, we followed up with a news story on research targeting more specific areas of cognition that might be affected by playing video games:

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Living with Parkinson’s

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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.”

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