Diamond in the Rough World of Neuroscience

We have the ability to change our brains. Throughout life, even into old age, new neural connections can be formed. However, the idea the brain can change, called brain plasticity, is relatively new. Before 1963, scientists theorized that the brain remained static after birth and environment played no role in its potential.

The woman who changed the conversation around brain plasticity, Marian Diamond, professor emerita of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley, was the subject of “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond,” a documentary that aired this week on PBS.

Diamond focused on proving that the brain is shaped by environment, not just genetics. She performed an experiment where one group of rats were kept in enriched cages, with toys and other rats to socialize with, while another group lived in impoverished cages, with no other rats or objects to interact with. Rats housed in enriched cages had brains that were six percent larger than the rats in impoverished cages. She reacted to this finding by running across the campus to tell her research partner the results. “This will change science,” he told her. And it did.

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Photo courtesy of Luna Productions

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Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts

In the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every minute; around the world, it’s every four seconds. “It is the biggest epidemic we have in this country,” says Harvard University’s Rudolph Tanzi, “I’m shocked that people aren’t panicked about what this disease is going to do to the country or to their families.”

This Wednesday (January 25) at 10 pm ET, PBS is premiering “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,” an urgent wake-up call about the national threat posed by the disease. The documentary includes interviews with doctors, caregivers, and longtime researchers of the disease, such as Dana Alliance member Tanzi.

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Whoopi Goldberg, David Eagleman, and the Brain

Karma is the Sanskrit word for action and is a fundamental concept in Buddhism that refers to our actions as having a direct effect on our future conditions. But what is it about our brains that sucker us into making decisions we know are not grounded in reality? “We’re not fixed. From cradle to grave, we are works in progress,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Last week at New York City’s Rubin Museum, Eagleman was joined by actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg for an entertaining discussion on whether “fate and destiny should be deciding factors in human behavior.”

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

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Putting “Brains on Trial”–A New PBS Series

Guest post by Kayt Sukel

How might the field of neuroscience change the U.S. legal system? It’s a broad question; as technology advances, neuroscientific study has the potential to alter all aspects of a legal case, starting from how we determine a perpetrator’s true intent to helping judges hand down appropriate and just sentences. But the key word here is potential, and in a new two-part PBS series, Brains in Trial, actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda explores just what that potential may be.

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NOVA on PBS: Cracking Your Genetic Code

This past Wednesday PBS aired a wonderful program on genetics, “Cracking Your Genetic Code,” as part of its NOVA series. The program, which was produced in association with The Hastings Center, explores whether we are ready for “personalized, gene-based medicine.” The full video is available online.

By following a few medical cases and interviewing researchers from noted institutions including NIH, Dartmouth, and Harvard, as well geneticists working at genotyping labs, the show draws attention to the hopes and the concerns that mass genetic sequencing may bring.

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