New Paper: Incorporating Sex Influences into Today’s Brain Research

Historically, most medical research has used male subjects (human and animal) and tissues, but recently there has been a notable increase in the acceptance of the need to incorporate sex influences into brain research. in 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated that all future biomedical research funded by the agency include sex differences.

But two years after the NIH passed its mandate, the research community continues to debate how best to address sex as a biological variable.

Why not just introduce female subjects to the studies, you might wonder, but it’s not that simple, as Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explains in our new briefing paper:

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Sleep Disorders as Prologue to Disease: From the Archives

What a (incremental) difference seven years make. In 2009, when we wrote about Dana Alliance member David Holtzman’s work, the headline was “Could Sleep Disorders Contribute to Alzheimer’s?” This month, Scientific American describes the work he and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are doing using the headline “Why Sleep Disorders May Precede Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.” We’ve gone from “maybe take a look” to “what’s the mechanism” on evidence for a link between sleep troubles and risk for neurodegenerative disorders has come.

Scientific American’s Simon Makin calls the Holtzman lab’s 2009 discovery the “best evidence for a causal relationship” From our story:

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New Brain Connections

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Part of the Dana Foundation’s mission of educating the public with the latest in neuroscience research involves providing a better understanding of the brain and its functions. Brain Connections is a newly refashioned feature of the Foundation’s website, where you can find answers to your questions about common neurological diseases and disorders.

The page currently offers validated resources for 30 common brain diseases, and links to sites that have been reviewed by our scientific advisors. Brain Connections is suitable for students, educators, families, and caregivers, as well as patients experiencing any of the listed conditions.

Visitors can find:

  • Descriptions of conditions
  • FAQs
  • Background for speaking with physicians
  • Treatment options
  • Support information for families and caregivers
  • Organization contacts
  • Sources for more information

Our knowledge about the brain is constantly progressing as science and technology advance, so it’s important to stay well-informed. The information provided in Brain Connections is not a substitute for medical advice, however. So be sure to consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

2017 Design a Brain Experiment Competition

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Students have just over one month to submit their entries to our annual Design a Brain Experiment competition! We’re looking for high school students in the US to take on the challenge of coming up with an original experiment focusing on the human brain. On January 11, 2017, all entries will be collected for review by our team of scientific advisors, led by neuroscientist Eric Chudler, Ph.D.

This is the sixth year the Dana Foundation will be awarding a $500 first place prize and a $250 runner-up prize to the schools or sponsoring nonprofit institutions of the winning students. Research proposals can investigate any part of neuroscience as long as it tests a theory about the brain. Just remember, the experiments are hypothetical, so students don’t need to actually complete them.

Last year’s winning submission was from New York’s Emery Powell, who focused on a potential therapy to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. For more details on how to enter, read through the official competition guidelines. Experiments will be judged on creativity, so we encourage students to think outside the box. The 2017 winners will be announced during Brain Awareness Week (March 13-19). Good luck!

Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

Here’s the full video from the latest #neuroseries forum, in September; it was so rich in data and ideas that I watched it twice before writing a story about the event for our website. One of my favorite parts is researcher Anne Fernald’s’s description and video showing how fast language-processing speed improves from when a child is 18 months old to when he is 30 months old. Not only is it an easy-to-follow example of how to test language ability in preverbal children, but I love the boy’s attitude when he knows he’s got it right.

I have the short clip with my story; in this video it starts at the 15:05 mark.

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