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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 »

The First Step Is Failure

Joanne Jacobs, edu­ca­tor, blog­ger and author of Our School: The Inspir­ing Story of Two Teach­ers, One Big Idea and the Char­ter School That Beat the Odds, par­tic­i­pates today in our Author Speaks Series with an excel­lent arti­cle on how “Schools won’t improve until admin­is­tra­tors and teach­ers can admit the prob­lems, ana­lyze what’s going wrong and try new strate­gies. Stu­dents won’t improve if they think they’re “spe­cial” just the way they are.” Enjoy, and feel free to add your com­ment to engage in a stim­u­lat­ing conversation.Our School: Joanne Jacobs

The First Step Is Failure
By Joanne Jacobs

When self-esteem became an edu­ca­tion watch­word in 1986, I thought it was a harm­less fad. I was wrong: It wasn’t harm­less. Many teach­ers were per­suaded that stu­dents should be pumped up with praise, regard­less of their per­for­mance. Schools low­ered expec­ta­tions so stu­dents couldn’t fail. Every­one got an “I Am Spe­cial” sticker. Till the stan­dards and account­abil­ity move­ment kicked in, stu­dents often were judged by how they felt about learn­ing not by whether they’d actu­ally learned something.

Read the rest of this entry »

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