To Stimulate the Mind
many of the buildings you see through the trees on the NIH Bethesda
campus, experiments are taking place around the clock that aim to benefit
humanity. Research protocols, found at this
need healthy volunteers for all different types of experiments. You
could flex your ankle 100 times to study muscle movement, walk back
and forth with sensors attached to you to study gait, or have neurotransmitters
measured with an MRI.
by far the most interesting study Ive participated in was one
run by Leonardo
Cohen of NINDS, the National Institute of Neurological Diseases
and Stroke. The aim of this study is to learn how to help stroke patients
return to previous levels of functioning. Stroke victims may lose control
of one side of their body, and it takes a lot of relearning to regain
this control. Imagine having to learn how to write, or type, or even
wave all over again! The study seeks to make this learning process faster
and betterwe dont just want a motor-skills cram session
that is forgotten in a week; were looking at lifelong learning.
for three months, a member of Cohens team, Janine
Reis, studied how I, and many others, learned.
oversimplified version of the experiment (you can get the full protocol
by going to the site mentioned above and typing NCT00314769 in the search
box) is this: Stimulate the brain while performing a new a motor skill
and see how quickly it is learned and how long it is remembered. What
is the stimulation? It sounds like an old science fiction noveltranscranial
direct current stimulation (tDCS) on a very specific part of the brainbut
tDCS in the right place could do wonders.
was like playing a video gamesame motions, over and over. As with
playing video games, I got better with practice. But how much better,
and how quickly, and how long would I remember? Early findings suggest
that those who receive stimulation learn faster, are more accurate,
and keep the skill longer than those who do not. Maybe forever.
if you decide to take the neurology path in your medical career, perhaps
youll be one of the brilliant and dedicated minds studying the
mind in the Clinical Center. Ill be a happy test subject!
perhaps you, too, would get a kick out of being a healthy volunteer
in a study like this onejust one example of the fascinating science
that can be experienced firsthand at NIH, either as a volunteer or a