Highlights from Neuroscience 2008 (BSP 50)

Episode 50 of the Brain Science Podcast is a change of pace from our usual format.  In this episode I share a few highlights from this year's Neuroscience 2008, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, which just concluded in Washington, DC.

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Show Notes and Links:

Scientists featured in this episode:

  • Eve Marder (Brandeis University)-current president of SfN.
  • Tom Carew (UC-Irvine)-incoming president of SfN.
  • Michael Bate (Cambridge University): his talk about the study of the development of movement in fruit flies is featured in this episode.



  • Books and Ideas #23: Interview with Nobel physicist, Dr. Frank Wilczek.

Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

Dr. Brenda Milner Swamped by Admirers

Neuroscience pioneer, Dr. Brenda Milner gave a memorable lecture on the history of memory research yesterday afternoon at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.  Before her talk, she was greeted by old colleagues, including Nobel Laureate, Dr. Eric Kandel.  (I was able to talk with Dr. Kandel briefly and he has agreed to come on the Brain Science Podcast in 2009!)

After her talk, Dr. Milner was swamped by young admirers who were eager to have their pictures taken with this amazing pioneer.  Dr. Milner’s talk included a discussion of her work with the famous patient HM, but she was very meticulous about crediting the work of others including Dr. Sue Corkin of MIT, who was also in the audience.  Readers who missed the lecture can get a feel for the story Dr. Milner shared by listening to her recent interviews on Futures in Biotech and the Brain Science Podcast.

Since I recently interviewed Dr. Milner for Episode 49 of the Brain Science Podcast,  I was grateful to have the chance to meet her in person and to give her a Brain Science Podcast t-shirt.

Listen to Dr. Milner on the Brain Science Podcast

Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at docartemis at gmail.com

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From Neuroscience 2008: BSP Listener wins Travel Award

Mary Petrosko from Dominican University was one of several students honored last night at a reception for winners of the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) Travel Awards, held as a part of this year’s Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, which is being held through tomorrow in Washington, DC. Mary was one of several students who received travel awards from the Grass Foundation. The event included a poster session where undergraduate neuroscience students presented their research. Mary Petrosko’s research involved exposing Aplysia to gingko and measuring its effects on learning.  (Apylsia has been a key experimental animal for unraveling learning at a fundamental level.) Petosko’s work showed that gingko had no measurable effect on Aplysia learning. While this does not prove that it is also ineffective in humans, it does support the findings of other researchers who have found no effect in normal human learning. Also, it raises the question of what the mechanism of gingko’s action would be, since we know that the fundamental elements of learning, such as LTP (long term potentiation), are shared across species. Mary told me that when she first started to work in her lab she listened to the Brain Science Podcast to “get up to speed.” I want to congratulate Mary on her award and also thank all the students who have written to me in the last 2 years. Your feedback helps keep me going.
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Neuroscience 2008: Emerging Themes

30,000 scientists are attending the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in Washington DC. To a neophyte attendee (like me) there seem to be at least that many lectures and posters to choose from. Yesterday I focused on attending several press events and I also enjoyed a featured lecture by Dr. Michael Bate, from Cambridge University (UK). At the press events several themes emerged. As I mentioned in a previous post the leadership of the Society for Neuroscience is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of public awareness of neuroscience. Yesterday they announced Neuroscience Core Concepts, which they described as a “practical resource” about how the brain works. Click here to learn more. Besides emphasizing the importance of public education, during the press briefing with various leaders from NIH, the importance of basic research was highlighted. A recent politician’s attack on fruit fly research has made scientists painfully aware that even people in leadership positions remain dangerously unaware that seemingly esoteric research can lead to important advances. The fruit’s fly’s essential role in genetic research is taken for granted by most scientists, but it is also important in neuroscience research that is not explicitly genetic in nature. Later today I will try to post a brief description of Michael Bate’s lecture. It is a perfect example of this principle since it involves using fruit fly larvae to study motor development. Even thought the fruit fly lacks a true brain it has a surprisingly complex nervous system.
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Neuroscience 2008: Incoming President of SfN Emphasizes Public Outreach

At Saturday's Brain Awareness Campaign Event at Neuroscience 2008, Tom Carew, President-Elect of the Society for Neuroscience described his commitment to public outreach. The emphasis of the Brain Awareness Week campaign is on K-12 educational outreach. Dr. Carew and the other speakers noted that today's youngsters are tomorrow's neuroscientists. Also, public education is essential to on-going support of science research. It is also becoming increasingly important in helping citizens make decisions about their own health. Barbara Gill from the Dana Alliance announced that they will be updating their website for the 2009 campaign, and Dr. Carew outlined his plans to increase collaboration among scientists and educators. Since the Society for Neuroscience is the most important international organization of neuroscientists, I think it is very important that they are becoming more active in public outreach. As the public becomes more aware of neuroscience there is an important need for accurate sources of information.
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ISDP Celebrates 40 years of Neuroscience Research

I am in Washington, DC to cover Neuroscience 2008, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience; but yesterday, thanks to Kathleen Burke, PhD, of USC, I also had the opportunity to visit a poster session at the International Society of Developmental Psychobiology (ISDP), which is celebrating it 40th year.  The focus of the ISDP is on the relationship between brain developmental and behavior.  This is an area of research that has many practical applications.

For example, it is well-known that excessive alcohol consumption in pregnancy can cause the devastating condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome.  Researchers are trying to uncover the mechanisms of this damage.  They are also trying to determine whether there are any countermeasures, such as iron-supplementation, that really help prevent the damage.

The research topics are quite diverse.  They range from questions about how babbling relates to language development to questions about adolescent brain.  Jack Turman, PhD, arranged for me to talk to numerous researchers, and I hope to have some of them on a future episode of the Brain Science Podcast.  You can learn more about ISDP at http://www.isdp.org/