Neuroscience and Society: Autism

When we’re trying to help people who have troubles due to autism spectrum disorders, one of the first challenges is definition: What does “autism” mean?

“Autism was and is still currently defined by behaviors,” Dana Alliance member Barry Gordon said, as researchers haven’t yet found solid biomarkers or other internal signals to identify it. “Whenever you read about autism, you might want to dig into what definitions they go into,” he said during a discussion at the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in Washington, DC, last week.

Autism -Dawson - Oct2018Even definitions by behavior vary. For example, fellow presenter Daniel Geschwind said, problems with language used to be part of the diagnosis, but now doctors and other caregivers usually only count differences in social behavior and the presence of “repetitive-restrictive” behavior (like hand-flapping or always needing to do activities in the same order).

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Free Public Event: Buildings and the Brain

 

Building and the Brain.jpg

Image: Shutterstock

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” – Winston Churchill

When he made this remark, the great orator was actually speaking about the reconstruction of the House of Commons, but the sentiment is equally true for the more modest buildings we see around us every day and the spaces we inhabit regularly. Using scientific methodology, architects and neuroscientists are increasingly collaborating to explore the variety of human experiences that can change with the design of buildings. Does it matter to our brains if a building has lots of curves or lots of sharp angles? As we walk the streets of our cities, what are the effects on our brains of façade design, greenspaces, and street geometry? Sophisticated neuroimaging technologies have made it possible to answer questions like these. Finally, the program will address the special challenges when designing buildings and rooms for individuals suffering from the extreme neurological deficits that are present in dementia, in general, and Alzheimer’s, in particular.

When:
Thursday, March 15, 2018
5:30 – 8:00 pm (EST)

Where:
AAAS Headquarters
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005

Speakers:
Margaret Calkins, Ph.D.
Board Chair
IDEAS Institute

Eve Edelstein, M.Arch., Ph.D.
Research Director, Human Experience and Gadget Labs
Perkins+Will

Justin Hollander, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy
Tufts University

Discussant:
Frederick Marks, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Six Sigma Green Belt
Visiting Scholar and Research Collaborator
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Register by: March 13, 2018 11:59 PM Eastern Time

This event is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Dana Foundation.

Neuroscience and Society: The Opioid Epidemic

opioid_deaths_2color

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/index.html

“We’ve moved from an epidemic to a crisis” in opioid abuse in the United States, said Daniel Ciccarone, M.D., MPH, during a panel discussion at AAAS in Washington, DC, this week. Ciccarone, a doctor at University of California, San Francisco, who treats addicted people and does research, described a pattern of intertwined waves involving abuse of prescription pills, heroin, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

For example, while overdose deaths due to prescription pill use are spread relatively evenly across the country, “this is not true for heroin,” Ciccarone said. The Northeast has had troubles with opioid abuse for a generation, while in the Midwest, numbers have jumped just recently. And while older folks (50-64) are using pills in greater numbers, it’s younger people (20-35) driving heroin use.

“Heroin itself is becoming more and more dangerous,” he said, especially when it is laced with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil (used to tranquilize elephants). People who stop breathing after using these stronger concoctions often don’t respond to emergency treatments like naloxone.

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Free Public Event: The Opioid Epidemic

Addiction

Image: Shutterstock

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with overdoses and deaths caused by prescribed and “street” drugs on the rise. The accelerating abuse of opioids includes not only painkillers that have legitimate uses, but heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl as well. The epidemic is not limited to inner city pockets of poverty; small-town America is also overcome by a tsunami of opioid addiction, putting strains on state and local social services and criminal justice systems. Join us for an event that will address the demographics and sociology of the opioid epidemic, the science of opioid addiction, and treatment options.
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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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