Archive for the ‘Spinal Cord Injury’ Category

Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

November 23, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008: Expanding Brain Awareness

The Twitter: ” I’m aware. Are You?” Brain Awareness Week 2009

The Big Idea: Neuroscience 2108: What will we know? How do we get there?

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To an audience of young neuroscientists and neuro-leaders gathered to learn more about Brain Awareness Week 2009 (March 16-22), incoming Society for Neuroscience President Professor Thomas Carew reminded the group: ‘Neuroscience research rises out of and gives back to the public good.’

However noble (and ethical) the gesture, it seems there’s nothing cooler than studying the very thing that makes us “human.” And as I’ve tried to show over this last year, there are numerous good reasons why anyone living on Planet Earth in 2008 would want to know how a human brain actually works. More intimate with our bodies than our cell phones, more complicated than our laptops, the human brain begs our curiosity, our devoted attention, our awe! It goes without saying that with an average of 100 billion neurons signaling to each other on any given day, and with the prospect of neuroplasticity programmed into each nerve cell, the brain demands a readied corps of impassioned researchers capable and willing to spend hours, days, months and years observing and decoding the complex and emergent system we call
the nervous system.

The Society of Neuroscience and the Dana Alliance have joined forces to lay the foundational grounds for raising that corps by creating Brain Awareness Week, an international, consciousness raising event devoted to inspiring youth of all ages to learn about the science of the brain. To be frank, I have a lot of faith already in the new grad students entering neuroscience labs. As a generation suckled on the Internet and diagnosed en mass with ADD, they self-admittedly bring to the table, a seasoned sense of video gaming, social networking and a pharmaceutically managed skills of focus and attention. You’ll find them scratching their heads, trying to imagine how their parents ever thought the mind was not connected to the body. With their biotechologically retooled focus on neural networks, these future scientists will map the non-linear circuits of the brain with new neuro-infoschematic programs. Turning to the Allen Spine Atlas to which they will likely contribute, the next generation of neuroscientists will uncover the mysteries of how we regenerate neural tissue, of how we heal and walk again.

With 2009 Brain Awareness Week in mind, SfN leaders announced it will be promoting its 8 “Core Concepts.” In this coming week, I will introduce the core concepts as it relates to the concerns of this blog.

In the meantime, please write to me and ask how you and your friends, your network, your school or your organization can create a knock out Brain Awareness campaign for 2009! (No pun intended!)

With all nerve cells firing!

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way!

For futher info:

The Society of Neuroscience <http://www.sfn.org&gt;

The Dana Alliance <http://www.dana.org/brain.aspx&gt;

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Neuroscience 2008: Nature/Nuture and Neuro-Plasticity!

November 18, 2008

The Twitter Nurture your Nature!

The Big Idea: Neuro-Plasticity is critical to neurogenesis (But when and how?)

Allow me to start with a question:  How many of you really believe that “exercise” can change your brain?  How many of you have already adapted yourselves to a non-fast food diet of low fat, low sugar, low volume eating lifestyle? And how many of you take a nap to replenish memory of all those nifty concepts and technical skills you learned in the early a.m.?

Well if you were a fly on the wall in any of the Neuroscience 2008 sessions (rather than submitted to a lab of brain probe research!), you would detect a consistent pattern in neuroscience research: Nature and Nurture are inextricably linked — so much so as to push us to think why did we ever think otherwise? Or to put it another way, news from the brain labs reinforces what we’ve learned from cardiac research and training grounds, namely: Lifestyle can make or break one’s future in obtaining a clear mind and good and healthy longevity!

Having the opportunity to meet and listen to neuroscientists who are paving the way to our understanding of both the normal and diseased brain and body has pointed up to some insights worth sharing:

1. Scaling the practice of Brain Mapping:  When it comes to neuroscience as a research area of biotechnology, the bio here means both neuroanatomical, neurochemical and neurogenetic levels of inquiry and analysis.  For the lay reader, this means brain research is scaled and mapped from the macro to the micro levels of network analysis.

2.  Neuro-Plasticity, like comedy is all about timing! Different levels of circuit analysis open doors to understanding the phenomenon of neuro-plasticity — best periods, best practices, and the conditions when “too much plasticity” appears implicated as in cases of schizophrenia.   Given the trendiness that has brought neuro-plasticity into critical mass awareness, scientists at this conference were quite clear if not humble in making claims for the play-doh capacity of the brain.  Today’s press conference on the developing brain drove home this message in this way:

Animal studies, such as the songbird studies run by Dr. Allison Doupe (see previous blog), point to a critical period for neuro-plasticity to express itself in learning and memory.

Dr. Takao Hench* reinforces Doupe’s perspective, noting if the critical period is disturbed in embryonic development, then plasticity is interrupted.   Hench studies proteins in embryonic head development, finding their importance in developing visual function and spinal chord development.

No doubt, the evidence for embryonic and childhood neuro-plasticity opens new doors to asking how and when new neuronal landscapes are formed in later periods of life.  The aging brain question on the table?  Does the brain recapitulate earlier strategies for neuroplasticity in the adult stage and to what degree?  (All you meditators out there: Think cultivating beginner’s mind.)

3.  Nurture your Nature: With the advent of genetics,  neuroscience has leaped into a new age of epigenetic studies:  This may be one of the areas that speaks directly to how we as non-scientists can make sense of brain science in terms of our own daily lives.   To give you a quick brief, think of the old nature/nurture argument, seemingly put to rest by the genome mapping project and the insights scientists have had regarding the role “environment” plays in shaping the genetic expression.

At Neuroscience 2008, several scientists were on hand to discuss their epigenetic research highlighting the effects of lifestyle and cultural habit on the brain as seen at the level of genetic expression.  Let’s be clear here, the expression is not seen at the level of change in DNA structure but in the level of “gene expression.”  For you genomic neophytes out there, I came to understand this by way of a great explanation offered by Dr. Quincy LaPlant who noted his use of microray analysis to distinguish between DNA sequence and sequence organization.

The long and short of this:  The implications of lifestyle cannot be under-estimated:  Stress, early childhood abuse and neglect, high-fat diets all manifest as modifers the brain at the level of genetic organization, the level of brain function, and the level of human experience!!!!!

Epigenetics — keep your eye on that term!

More tomorrow….

Until then, conference tip for brain fitness:  “We remember to sleep so that we can sleep to remember!” (William Fishbein)

*Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University

SPINAL TAP REVISITED IN 21C

July 20, 2008

The Platform:  Mindshare.la 

The Tweeter: EVO DEVO

The Application:  Spinal Cord Mapping

BIG IDEA 1:  Innovation and Sustainability are necessary competing and collaborative values of evolutionary anatomy.

Big IDEA 2:  The spine supports our bipedal transit through space and houses our peripheral nervous system, enabling or deterring the liveliness of vital organs and the systems that regulate them.

Big Somanautic IDEA: The spine is interdependent and intimately networked with the brain/mind/body.

 

In the year of the brain, social networking brings neuro to the fore of tweeters, blogs and raves!  A case in point.  Mindshare.la organized by visionary entrepreneurs Doug Campbell, Justin Pichetrungsi and Adam Mefford, is a 21st century forum of “enlightened debauchery” taking place monthly at the L. A.’s Brewery complex.  The event staged on the 4th floor loft of an old brewery building, draws to it a cadre of cutting edge designers, techies and scientists from the networked brain trust of So. Cal. universities and art schools. 

On Thursday, July 17, the Brewery loft was buzzing with futurist ideas and stunning design moments in self expression:  Seamstress Erin wafting through room in her orange parachute evening dress, Sarah Dunbar Rhodes Design’s new line of gold and Swarovski crystal jewelry as multi-faceted and sparkling as the conversations in the room.  As for inspired tech-logic, last night’s presentation included a rapid-fire talk on Evo-Devo by futurist John Smart. While the changing morphology of the spine was not the point of Smart’s rhetorical pitch on cultural acceleration, his comments on Evo-Devo gave me pause as to the effects of evolution and development on the peripheral nervous system.

Seamstress Erin

Seamstress Erin

To this point:  A recent posting from the Seattle Times announced a new spinal cord atlas is in the works.  The Allen Institute for Brain Science at the University of British Columbia is releasing the first of its data on spinal cord mapping.  Spinal cartography enables neuro-biologists to study in greater depth, the cellular territory of neural tissue in the peripheral nervous system.

Spinal Cord at the level of the lumbarsacral enlargement

Spinal Cord at the level of the lumbarsacral enlargement

“It will enable us to look inside each group of cells in the spinal cord and know what it is that makes them special and different from the cells around them,” said [Jane] Roskams, of UBC’s Brain Research Centre. “I don’t think there will be a lab in the world working on spinal-cord injuries that does not access this as soon as it goes online.”

[See http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008056228_allenbrain17m.html%5D

Pushed front and center into neuro-celebrity, the spinal cord deserves the GGI and SpaceSuit Yoga’s attention given its place in the unfolding Evo-Devo story of brain science.   From the standpoint of evolution, the spine carries the morphological coding of its unique genetic, neurological and anatomical history.  From the standpoint of actual development in one lifetime, the spine grows and must be maintained in order to fortify bipedalism and safely house the peripheral nervous system – the system of signals and reflexes codes that turn on and off the vitality of our VITAL ORGANS. .  Think of spinal Evo-Devo in terms of orthopedic and kinesthetic effects:  the ergonomic adjustments that had to come from moving on all fours to walking upright!   

For you somanauts out there, mapping the spinal cord holds tremendous promise in the fields of regenerative and restorative medicine and the broad spectrum of healing arts.  Imagine what the spinal map will do the treatment of spinal cord injury, as well as for the fields that work hands on with spinal liberation and adjustment, e.g. Chiropractic, Cranial Sacral, Feldenkris, and the many Yogas and Martial Arts.   A somatically enlightened Evo-Devo lab on spinal anatomy would, in other words, urge us to reckon with both evolutionary innovation of human anatomy and sustainable maintenance of normative spinal development throughout a lifetime.  SpaceSuit Yoga Suggestions: Spinal breathing, Spinal rolls, gentle back bends – any and all juicy wave like, undulating movement that lubricates the spinal and related joints with cerebral-spinal and synovial fluid!

Rock and Roll,

Dr. G.