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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Grand Rounds: Best of Health and Medical Blogging

Welcome to a new edition of Grand Rounds blog carnival, the weekly edition of what’s best in the health and medical blogosphere. This week, twenty four bloggers share data, insights, questions, reflections and more. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

The Brain in Science Education: What Should Everyone Learn?

Courtesy of the University of California, Davis, Center for Neuroscience

What should everyone learn about the brain?

At the national level, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) describes what adults should know in its seminal work Science for All Americans.[1] AAAS also recommends learning goals for K-12 students in its Benchmarks for Science Literacy[2,3], and Atlas of Science Literacy[4,5], and the National Research Council (NRC) offers a similar set of goals in its National Science Education Standards.[6] States and school districts use the AAAS and NRC recommendations as a basis for the design of their own standards, which then inform the development of curriculum and assessment materials (those commercially developed as well as those developed with grant funds). In addition, the neuroscience community has developed its own set of core concepts that K-12 students and the general public should know about the brain and nervous system and has correlated those concepts to the national standards.[7]

Between the AAAS and NRC recommendations, there are some areas of broad consensus on what students should know. According to AAAS’s Benchmarks and Atlas, for example, students in the elementary to middle school grades should understand the following ideas:

  • The brain enables human beings to think and sends messages to other body parts to help them work properly.
  • The brain gets signals from all parts of the body telling it what is happening in each part. The brain also sends signals to parts of the body to influence what they do.
  • Interactions among the senses, nerves, and brain make possible the learning that enables human beings to predict, analyze, and respond to changes in their environments.[8]

The National Research Council’s Standards offers very similar concepts in Read the rest of this entry »

Pooling data to accelerate Alzheimer’s research

Very interesting article in the New York Times on the reasons behind growing research of how to detect Alzheimer’s Disease: Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s (New York Times)

(Situation before) Scientists were looking for biomarkers, but they were not getting very far. “The problem in the field was that you had many different scientists in many different universities doing their own research with their own patients and with their own methods,” said Dr. Michael W. Weiner of the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs, who directs ADNI. “Different people using different methods on different subjects in different places were getting different results, which is not surprising. What was needed was to get everyone together and to get a common data set.”

(Situation now) Companies as well as academic researchers are using the data. There have been more than 3,200 downloads of the entire massive data set and almost a million downloads of the data sets containing images from brain scans.

Comment: as discussed in our recent market report, we’ll probably see sooner rather than later a comparable effort aimed at finding the biological and or cognitive markers for the Cognitive Reserve, the emerging cornerstone for a lifelong mental wellness (vs. a disease-specific) approach. For more on the need to standardize data and care, read interview with Patrick Donohue on Reinventing Brain Care through Policy, Standards, Technology. For more on the Cognitive Reserve, read interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern.

PABI Plan: Reinventing Brain Care Through Policy, Standards, Tech, Neuroinformatics

Today, in honor of both Brain Awareness Week (March 15-21) and Brain Injury Awareness Month (March), it is my pleasure to interview Patrick Donohue, founder of the Sarah Jane Brain Project, a foundation launched in 2007 with the explicit aim to create a model system for children suffering from all Pediatric Acquired Brain Injuries, and an implicit potential, in my view, to fundamentally transform medical research through the use of neuroinformatics and standarized systems of care.

The Foundation: Story and Objectives

Alvaro Fernandez: Patrick, thank you very much for your time today. Can you please provide an overall perspective into what you are doing and why?

Patrick: Of course. The Sarah Jane Brain Project, tdy_robach_shakenbaby_081114.300w named after my daughter Sarah Jane, started when she was shaken by her baby nurse when she was 5 days of age, which resulted in a severe brain injury. Through my continued efforts to help her, I couldn’t help but notice that the whole field of brain injury needs to make huge progress in a short time frame if it is to really help Sarah Jane – and thousands of children like her – with providing evidence-based, standardized systems of care. Probably 85% of patient needs are common, yet each case seems to require reinventing the wheel. Worse, little research has been done on children’s rehabilitation.

We probably know about 5% of what we will eventually know about the brain. The systems of research and care remind me of the computer science field in the 1950s: very promising, but fractured and inconsistent. In consulting with many experts on ways to accelerate progress, we realized we need to bring both significantly more resources and open source principles to the field of pediatric neurology. We launched the Sarah Jane Brain Project to transform the field to help Sarah Jane and thousands of kids like her.

Before you launched the Foundation, you worked as a lawyer and political consultant. How did that background help, or hinder, those very ambitious goals?

I believe my background was a great help, to bring an outside perspective to the problems that many scientists and doctors were already working on, and to know how to work with politicians and policy-makers to obtain needed attention and resources.

Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury (PTBI) is the leading cause of death and disability for children and young adults from birth through 25 years of age in the United States, with more new cases in any given year than HIV/AIDS and Autism combined, yet it only receives a paultry portion of federal research money (we are talking a few million for brain injury vs, literally, billions toward other disease states that have less cases), and it was basically ignored during the ongoing health reform process.

Talking to dozens of experts, I met multiple networks and individuals in the TBI care community who had already identified the need to develop a solid pediatric model system, but needed support and resources. We brainstormed potential strategies, and came to see that we would need to cover all Acquired Brain Injury (including both traumatic and not traumatic causes), to increase learning, and to truly be, as I often say, “on the side of the angels” (I have witnessed before how movements fail when they start to become myopic and arbitrary). We also decided to cover birth to 25 years of age, given the slow maturation of the frontal lobes. We wanted to develop best plan possible, irrespective of status quo considerations. For example, we consciously decided not to tailor our plan to the idiosyncratic preferences of different funding sources, but to present the National PABI Plan, a large, and unsolicited, multi-department grant that crossed 7 departments.

Political ears respond to victims’ stories, and to budget-neutral plans. Our concurrent resolution of Congress (H.Con.Res.198) has over 100 co-sponsors in the U.S. House. This measure has the United States Congress endorsing this National PABI Plan as the plan to prevent, identify and treat all brain injuries from birth through 25 years of age while encouraging federal, state and local governments to begin implementing it. We expect it to pass very soon.

Policy Innovation at Federal and State Levels

Please explain the origins and core elements of the PABI Plan (opens 500+ PDF document)

Our National Advisory imagesBoard gathered in New York City for a three-day conference on January 8-10, 2009, to finish drafting the PABI Plan. On January 20, 2009, we sent the first letter to President Barack Obama at 12:01 p.m. introducing the PABI Plan to him.

At its core, the PABI plan wants to fund and implement a new model system, using open source informatics for the first time in medical history, to assist in the study and rehabilitation of children suffering from Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury (PABI). Families will be able to make available, on an anonymous basis, the complete medical and therapy records and information of children suffering from PABI to doctors, researchers, other parents and caregivers, therapists, students and the general public.

Our partners in this are 52 State Lead Centers that will focus on developing evidence-based standarized system of care across 7 categories of care. They will develop Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this article thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students’ test scores; others aren’t convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?

When poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, he used the occasion to deliver an impassioned argument for the value of the arts and arts education.

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.”

For years, arts advocates like Gioia have been making similar pleas, stressing the intangible benefits of the arts at a time when many Americans are preoccupied with a market–driven culture of entertainment, and schools are consumed with meeting federal standards. Art brings joy, these advocates say, or it evokes our humanity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daughter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bolstering the case for the arts has become increasingly necessary in recent years, as school budget cuts and the move toward standardized testing have profoundly threatened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the federal government started assessing school districts by their students’ scores on reading and mathematics tests.

As a result, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy, school districts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cutting spending on non–tested subjects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB standards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested subjects, with less going to the arts. The National Education Association has reported that the cuts fall hardest on schools with high numbers of minority children.

And the situation is likely to worsen as state budgets get even tighter. Already, in a round of federal education cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts education nationally was slashed by $35 million. In 2008, the New York City Department of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

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