Researchers report new insights into how the brain responds to extreme stress, whether from combat, natural disasters, or repeated violent competition. The insights offer hope for detecting and treating several widespread and debilitating neuropsychiatric disorders, and were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
This time of year usually sees me travelling to the US for the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. This year for the first time in many years I am missing it, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I am keeping abreast of the proceedings.
A presentation at the meeting in New Orleans this past weekend revealed the first study to take a close look at Temple Grandin, perhaps the world’s most famous person with autism, and one of the first to look at the brains of savants. Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, is an outspoken advocate for autism research and awareness. She is known as a ‘savant,’ or a person who shows characteristic social deficits of autism and yet also has some exceptional abilities.
Another fascinating topic from the SFN Annual Meeting was the research being undertaken in the area of computational neuroscience.
Computational neuroscience is the study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system.
It is an interdisciplinary science that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology with electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics and physics.
In an interview in the current edition of New Scientist, Professor Terry Sejnowski, head of the computational neurobiology lab at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, says some of the most intriguing results in computational neuroscience come from collaborations between modelers and experimentalists.
Professor Sejnowski and his research colleagues’ research in modeling signal transfer patterns throughout the brain has resulted in new techniques which make it possible to simultaneously record signals from many neurons. The sensitivity means scientists can for the first time, watch the output from a neuron spread through the brain.
Research has also found that neurons respond differently to different stimuli (for example, signals required to move a prosthetic arm can change when people are tired). This research will help improve brain-machine interferences such as prosthetic limbs and thought-controlled wheelchairs.
I have just returned from the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, at which I made a poster presentation.
The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting is the premier venue for neuroscientists from around the world to debut cutting-edge research. Since 1971, the meeting has offered attendees the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs and network with colleagues at top destinations throughout North America.
One of the highlights of the meeting was a talk on Saturday by award-winning actress Glenn Close whose presentation, entitled “Bringing Change to Mind on Mental Illness,” focused on how science and society can work together to change minds on mental illness. Acknowledging that much work must be done to help the American public understand that mental illness is a brain disease, Close tackled questions like: “how do we reduce misconceptions, stigma, and bias that confront those with conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD?” and “how can we help the public discern fact from fiction to bring positive change for families struggling with mental illness?” Glenn Close’s nephew, Calen Pick, and her sister, Jessie Close, also spoke about their personal struggles with mental illness.
On Monday, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a tireless advocate for biomedical research and for people struggling with brain-based illnesses, highlighted his vision for a new campaign for brain research at Neuroscience 2010. Kennedy delivered the special presentation, entitled “A Neuroscience ‘Moonshot’: Rallying a New Global Race for Brain Research,” to a crowd filled with Neuroscience 2010 attendees and the general public at the San Diego Convention Center. His speech addressed the urgency of helping a generation of veterans affected by PTSD and TBI, and how public advocacy combined with growing science funding can help realize major advances in basic research and translational application for all brain-based conditions.
I will be writing more in coming posts on the many interesting insights I gained from the meeting.