June 4, 2008

Brain Awareness — i on NIH — episode #0012, segment 1

Holding a real brain, seeing the effects of alcohol or drugs on the brain, learning how neurons fire in the brain. All things that only NIH researchers might do, right? Eye-on-NIH found that people around the country and students in Washington DC got some insight on what neurologists do in a fun and fascinating environment.


Welcome to “i on NIH”!

Featured in this month’s episode are features about the Brain Awareness Week.

Narrator: From the national institutes of health in Bethesda, Maryland – America’s premiere medical research agency – this is “i on NIH”!

Covering health-research topics important to you and the nation, this public service vodcast is your information source from inside all 27 institutes and centers at NIH.

Half an hour, once a month, we’ll show you the excitement of advances and the important information that comes from medical research.

And now, here’s your host, Joe Balintfy.

Joe: Welcome to the twelfth episode of I on NIH. Thanks for joining us. In this episode, we have a couple of stories about how NIH is getting kids interested in science. One report follows groups learning about brain awareness. But first, here’s our news update with Harrison Wein from the NIH news-desk.

HARRISON: Thank you, Joe. In this NIH Research Update, physical activity and body fat, finding signs in metabolites, and the genome of the duck-billed platypus. Belle Waring from the Office of Communications and Public Liaison joins us today. Belle,

BELLE: Thanks Harrison. Researchers have long known that both physical activity and body fat affect your long-term health. But it's been hard to tease apart how much each contributes. NIH-funded researchers studied almost 39,000 women who were 45 and older. They calculated the women's body mass index, or BMI-that's a ratio of weight to height. Then they compared the women's BMI and physical activity levels with cardiovascular outcomes, like heart attacks. The scientists found that the risk of coronary heart disease increased as BMI increased. Obese women were over twice as likely to have a coronary event as women in the normal weight category.

Physical activity lowered the risk of coronary heart disease, regardless of the women's weight. And the more time women spent walking, the lower their risk for coronary heart disease. Clearly, physical activity improved health outcomes for the overweight and obese women in this study. But still, their risk never dropped as low as for normal-weight women. This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that both weight control and physical activity are important for preventing chronic diseases.*

HARRISON: Now, you've probably heard of genomics if you're watching this-the study of all the genes in an organism. Proteomics-the study of all the proteins in an organism-has also made some news. Metabolomics-a word derived from "metabolism"-goes a step further, capturing snapshots of our metabolites. These are the products of chemical reactions throughout our bodies. They include chemicals produced by our own bodies and those from the microbes living in our bodies. Metabolites also come from the things we eat and breathe. An international research team partly funded by NIH used NMR spectroscopy on urine specimens from over forty-six thousand people from China, Japan, the UK and the United States. NMR spectroscopy can detect a wide variety of metabolites, generating graphs with thousands of peaks representing different compounds. So why is any of this useful? Well, the group was able to uncover relationships between several specific metabolites and blood pressure. Metabolomics could one day prove useful in the clinic, helping doctors diagnose disease early or assess your risk of trouble in the future. You can't alter your DNA, but you can change your metabolic profile by changing your diet and lifestyle. As this field matures, it could help doctors guide their patients toward ways of reducing their particular health risks.*

BELLE: In another new study, researchers have done the first analysis of the genome sequence of the duck-billed platypus. Native to Australia, the duck-billed platypus is one of the few mammals that lays eggs, among other peculiarities. The sequence gives researchers a unique perspective on what the genomes of our earliest mammalian ancestors may have looked like. *

HARRISON: Read about these and many other research studies in "NIH Research Matters." Go to the NIH home page and look for the link on the right-hand side, under "In the News" that says, "eColumn: NIH Research Matters." And in this month's health newsletter, "NIH News in Health"… Imagine what life would be like if you had to constantly check food ingredients to make sure your life wasn't in danger after eating even a tiny bit. Read about living with food allergies, the effects of air pollution on asthma, and more in the May issue of NIH News in Health. You can find it at news-in-health-dot-nih-gov. *

This is Harrison Wein...

And this is Belle Waring...

at the NIH Science Desk.

Joe: Holding a real brain, seeing the effects of alcohol or drugs on the brain, learning how neurons fire in the brain. All things that only NIH researchers might do, right? Eye-on-NIH found that people around the country and students in Washington DC got some insight on what neurologists do in a fun and fascinating environment.

Voice Over: With fun and interactive events, six different institutes from the National Institutes of Health helped celebrate Brain Awareness Week recently.

VO: Andrea Schierkolk is the Public Programs Manager of the National Museum of Health and Medicine. She helped host the event at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Andrea Schierkolk: I will mention that this week we’ve got at least 24 schools represented during our Brain Awareness Week program. They're coming from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. In fact, Mayor Finty of the District of Columbia declared this Brain Awareness Week in Washington, D.C., and he has proclaimed it; the city supports it, and we, the Museum, support it on a national level.

VO: This event held at the National Museum of Health and Medicine saw more than 800 middle-school students participated in hands-on activities designed to inspire a new generation of scientists interested in the brain and the field of neuroscience.

Andrea’s voice track: We have become neurons ourselves and we’ve worn distortion goggles so that we can show interference in transmission of information. We have a drunken brain, so you get to experience what happens as your brain slows down when you're drinking alcohol…So we've done lots of things to show what happens to your brain.

VO: Dr. Dennis Twombly from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains his role and his “drunken brain” exhibit.

Dr. Dennis Twombly: Well Brain Awareness Week started in 1996. It's sponsored by the Dana Alliance and the Society for Neuroscience. And beginning in 1999, we started having these exhibitions here at The National Museum, which is a terrific venue for doing this because they have very fabulous specimens, one of which is plastimated brain specimen, which I used in my exhibit. It is a human brain that was preserved with plastic, and they allow the kids take a look at it and touch it. It's not as soft and squishy as a regular brain, but it allows me to show a real anatomical specimen and compare it to the model that I have inside the tent.

Dennis voice track: The basic premise is to explain some of the things that are going on in the brain when somebody becomes intoxicated, as well as some of the processes involved in the addictive process with long-term heavy alcohol abuse.

VO: Another, related demonstration was Roger’s Party with National Institute on Drug Abuse program manager Roger Sorensen, Ph.D.

Dr. Roger Sorensen: Okay. So at my booth, I just try to point out certain brain regions that are responsible for the affects of, the rewarding affects of drugs and alcohol, for those who choose to use drugs or alcohol. And then their ability, the brain region, to make a decision on whether they should, indeed, try to use drugs and alcohol. Then we have a little game, since this is my party, and a party should have games. And at my game and my party we have goggles. The goggles distort vision, such that to mimic on whether you have taken too much alcohol, for example. I always tell the kids that, although it distorts the vision, they still can think clearly. They do not have alcohol in their brain, so they can think. And we walk through a maze with the distorted vision on and they have a lot of fun with that.

Roger voice track: Some of the kids, it affects them, and they really think about it, and they go, “Whoa. I can't, I'm not going to choose to do alcohol.” Other kids, they kind of act out, you know, and it's really interesting to see the kids and their experiences,

Roger voice track: What I want them to come away is the ability to recognize that using drugs and alcohol is a decision. It's an important decision that they need to make for themselves.

Roger: They're in their formative years, especially for brain awareness, their brains are right in the middle of really growing, growing and developing, and especially, their prefrontal cortex and their decision-making area. So if we can start to get the word to help them make their decisions, I think that's very important, and this is a really fun thing to do.

VO: Many of the students agreed it was fun, but are not convinced they’ll become scientists themselves.

Keyona Cooper: I liked when we went to the Roger’s party and we to wear the glasses and we had to walk through a maze and the glasses impaired your like vision so it was blurry, and really, you had all your common sense like to think, but you still was tripping over stuff because you couldn't see right.

Michael Jones: We got to hold a brain. The most exciting part was actually the black light where we got to see what a brain would do if like you drink too much.

Amber Rawls: I didn't really know that much about the brain so I don't know if I want to take it to the next step of being a scientist. But I actually did learn a lot of information about the brain and how it works. How it affects.

Dr. Dennis Twombly: Possibly. A lot of outreach activities that we do, people mention that as a high priority. Personally, I think that any kind of an experience like this you have with kids, it makes the message very approachable. This is all hands-on brain science, and they get to know a neuroscientist directly. And all of a sudden, they start paying more attention to science, and if they're paying more attention to science, they're paying more attention to other subjects as well. So it's kind of a general, educational environment influence, rather than specifically, are we trying to train new medical students.

VO: Representing that National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Deputy Director Dr. Walker Koroshetz agrees that Brain Awareness Week events do make an impact.

Walter Koroshetz: I think we have a big challenge in trying to get information out about what scientists do, particularly brain science because think it’s kind of weird, kooky, geeky stuff. I think if you want to make a difference, you have to start with kids. So I think we basically make it really understandable close to the kind of experience they have. I think it’s going to have an impact going forward I think they’ll read more about it, I think some may think of science more seriously after a day like today.

VO: In addition to NINDS, NIAAA and NIDA, other NIH institutes involved were the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Aging.

VO: For eye on NIH, this is Joe Balintfy.

Joe: And that’s it for this episode of I on NIH – thanks for watching! If you’re a regular viewer, you may have noticed we’re a little short and a little late this time. In an effort to better use this medium, we’re experimenting with different ways to produce and distribute our vodcast. Please keep checking back for new material, and look for these and more segments on You Tube. For now, thanks again for tuning in and join us again next time. For I on NIH, I’m Joe Balintfy.

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