SfN18 Celebrates Brain Awareness

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With this year’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting now in full swing, downtown San Diego couldn’t be more bustling. Everywhere you turn, street signs, store windows, and flyers read “Neuroscience 2018” to encourage visitors to check out at least one of the many events happening at the San Diego Convention Center.

Helping to kick off the meeting on Saturday was the Brain Awareness Campaign reception and poster presentation. Alongside the reception stage, shared by numerous Brain Awareness Week “influencers,” were aisles lined with more than 40 colorful poster boards created largely by neuroscientists at various stages of their careers to showcase their neuroscience outreach initiatives.

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From the Archives: Circadian Rhythms

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Image: Shutterstock

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to three men who did basic research, discovering molecular mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm. The discoveries by Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” write the Nobel committee.

They and other researchers have continued to add details to our understanding of this critical system. In a story for Cerebrum in 2014, Paolo Sassone-Corsi described two relatively new areas of research: circadian genomics and epigenomics:

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Sleep Awareness Week Interview with Clifford Saper

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Who wouldn’t enjoy an extra hour or two of sleep before climbing out of bed and getting ready for work? A good night’s rest, or lack thereof, not only contributes to the following day’s productivity levels and emotions, but also its long-term effects are linked to cognitive and cardiovascular health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep each night, and research points sleeping less than seven to eight hours each night to health risks such as stroke, obesity, cancer, and high blood pressure.

For National Sleep Awareness Week (April 23 – 29), we asked sleep expert Clifford B. Saper, M.D., Ph.D., to discuss the importance of sleep hygiene, sleep disorders, and current research at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, where he conducts his lab research and heads the neurology department. Saper is also a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member and past Dana Foundation grantee.

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Monitoring the Body’s Invisible Clock

Our body is regulated by an invisible clock that influences our wakefulness, sleep, thoughts, and emotions. The circadian clock is an important regulatory feature, yet neuroscientists still don’t completely understand it. Although cognitive tests can be performed, it was difficult to monitor brain cells over the course of a day until neuroscientist and Dana Alliance member Huda Akil, M.D., designed an experiment that gave a new perspective on circadian clocks.

“Maybe it’s simple-minded, but nobody had thought of it,” she said to The New York Times in a recent article. Her team examined the healthy brains of 55 donors who had died suddenly at different times of the day. As reported by the Times:

As each person died, his brain cells were in the midst of making proteins from certain genes. Because the brains had been quickly preserved, the scientists could still measure the activity of those genes at the time of death.

Most of the genes they examined didn’t show any regular pattern of activity over the course of the day. But they found that more than 1,000 genes followed a daily cycle. People who died at the same time of day were making those genes at the same levels.

The findings were so consistent that they even enabled the scientists to determine the time of death within the hour.

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Sparking an Interest in Science

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Earlier this year, Alda gave a lecture at Columbia University on the importance of accessible science. Photo credit: Eileen Barroso, Columbia University

When actor Alan Alda was 11 years old he asked his teacher, “What is a flame?” Her reply: “It’s oxidation,” which was an explanation that was neither accessible nor interesting to him. It was this encounter that inspired him to create a competition to help 11-year-olds understand science in a way that makes sense to them.

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