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.”

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

#Brainweek: Our Sensational Brain

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Brain props at the AMNH for a fun photo opportunity and to get in the spirit of celebrating the brain during Neuroscience Night: Our Sensational Brain.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City presented “Neuroscience Night: Our Sensational Brain” last Thursday night in celebration of Brain Awareness Week. Using interactive activities, the event showcased the astounding capabilities of the human brain and the how it works in concert with our senses to interpret the world around us.

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#Brainweek: BioBase 2018

One of the newest buildings in Harlem’s historic neighborhood is now home to the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, part of Columbia University’s Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. The idea behind the Science Center’s construction was to have a designated place to support human connection, intellectual excellence, and pioneering research that goes beyond traditional academic boundaries. So, it only makes sense that the state-of-the-art glass and steel research center is where the BioBase opened its doors to the public for Brain Awareness Week on Monday.

The BioBase was bustling with young students and adults who explored the various stations to test out science experiments and research-grade lab equipment for themselves. Chief scientist Latasha Wright, Ph.D., who spearheaded the creation of the BioBase and the internship program at its sister facility, the BioBus, gave me a tour of the community lab and explained the different experiments that were designed to engage everyone from grades K-12 and up.

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A young visitor tests the microscope’s magnifying power by zooming up on an ant’s eye.

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Brain Awareness Week 2018

Guest post by Urooj Ansari, Social Media Chair at Be Brainy NYC

In 2012, Be Brainy NYC, the Greater NYC Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, held its first Brain Awareness Week. Launched by Ho Yu of Columbia University, the chapter was expanded by Heather McKellar of NYU, Paula Croxson of Mount Sinai, Kelley Remole of Columbia University, Ted Altschuler of Baruch College, and Heather Bowling, formerly of NYU. The earliest members, graduate school friends and colleagues from their respective institutions, met at the Dana Foundation’s office to organize their first events.

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Six years later, Be Brainy NYC is still true to its original mission of bringing brain science to the public. With a variety of events beginning next week, individuals from every age group and background imaginable will find activities in the city where they can learn about the squishy two-pound mass encased within their skulls.

One of the first events this year, and the newest one on the calendar, is the “Rap Guide to Consciousness.” With the use of hip hop comedy, “peer-reviewed rapper” Baba Brinkman will explore consciousness in an event for adults. The show will be held every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night through April at the Soho Playhouse.

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Memory as a Creative Act

Creativity (2).jpgDaphna Shohamy, Ph.D., is more comfortable in her lab at Columbia University than on stage in front of an audience. So why did she agree to participate in the 2018 Brainwave series for a live discussion? Because art and science are more alike than they seem, she said, and she wanted to help explain that.

The series pairs accomplished professionals with neuroscientists for a themed discussion at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. When asked who she would like as a partner for the discussion on the relationship between narrative/storytelling and memory, Shohamy knew right away she wanted to be paired writer Nicole Krauss, author of New York Times bestselling books Great House and The History of Love, because writers truly “understand the force of memory.”

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