Year in review: The most popular “On the Brain” posts of 2017

As we welcome in 2018, here’s a look back at the ten most popular posts of 2017.

1. A strong neuroscience program is about to get stronger—meet leaders and researchers at the forefront

CROET head

Photo by Aaron Bieleck, Ed Comm Photography

Today, neuroscience at OHSU is poised for dramatic growth, driven by emerging areas of research strength in the fields of neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration and a planned investment of at least $100 million.

Led by long-time campus leaders and new luminaries, the university is doubling down on its quest: contribute in a major way to understanding the mystery between our ears and, above all, improve brain health. Read more…

2. Five common myths about the brain
Here are five common myths about the brain – and the truth behind them. Read more…

3. Deep brain stimulation surgery: Eugene patient shares his story

Colin Halstead of Eugene had DBS surgery at OHSU. “I don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t have this that could,” he said.

Parkinson’s disease nearly overwhelmed Colin Halstead’s life. He needed two canes to walk. He took 27 pills a day.

His voice was hard to understand, and his ability to make facial expressions had all but slipped away.

His employer thought he needed to go on disability. Then he faced needing his parents to move from Sutherlin to Eugene to take care of him.

At 48, he felt like a child again. Read more…

4. Brain donation at OHSU

If a patient has a brain disease, usually the family will donate the brain for study after death for a couple of reasons. The first is to find out the final diagnosis. The second is to understand what this means for other family members, usually children or siblings. They want to know what are the chances that others in the family will get this or a similar brain disease? Read more…

5. Understanding frontotemporal dementia

For the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of leading a support group for family caregivers of persons with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and related disorders.

The group’s creation was based on an observation among our clinicians at the OHSU Aging and Alzheimer’s Clinic that the typical Alzheimer’s Disease support group did not always meet the needs of families dealing with FTD. Read more…

6. Celebrating our ROSE Award winners

We’ve all experienced those magical moments when someone makes your day – by treating you like family, by looking out for your well-being, by making that extra effort that transforms a small act into a big difference.

OHSU’s ROSE Award honors these experiences and celebrates the exceptional acts of service excellence that make our workplace a community. Read more…

7. New research looks at the influence of race and emotional context on face perception

Reports by some media outlets and community outreach organizations that track and document police violence demonstrate that more than any other demographic group, young black males may be at a particularly heightened risk of fatal police encounters.

The underlying causes for the reported violent interactions between police and black individuals are likely dependent on a number of factors.

To shed light on the issue, one approach taken by psychologists and neuroscientists has been to investigate potential behavioral and intrinsic brain-based biases when perceiving black vs. white faces. Read more…

8. Taking a seat at the table as an advocate for science

MerkleyOur first meeting on Capitol Hill was in the office of Senator Jeff Merkley.

I was seated across from a staff member with expertise in health policy and next to neuroscience department chairs and researchers with distinguished careers.

Alissa Ortman, Outreach Manager for Society for Neuroscience (SfN), introduced us: “Here are the neuroscientists.” Read more…

9. Concussion clinic improves care through integration of specialties

The Concussion Treatment Clinic within our sports medicine department is constantly assessing how to best diagnose, treat and help people recover from concussions. Read more…

10. Meet the minds behind NW Noggin, a K-12 neuroscience outreach program

PASSION Jeff Leake (left) and Dr. Bill Griesar co-founded NW Noggin, an arts-influenced outreach group with a mission to turn kids onto the wonders of neuroscience. Should you decide to attend one of the many NW Noggin outreach events, it’s a good bet Dr. Griesar will be there. Just look for the guy with pipe-cleaner neurons. Credit: Bill Griesar

Credit: Bill Griesar

At 8 a.m. in an eastern Washington elementary school gymnasium, Bill Griesar, Ph.D. ’01, is in a situation that would make anyone else sweat. Dr. Griesar has brought his group of neuroscience outreach volunteers – undergraduate and graduate students hailing from OHSU, Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver – to Davenport, Wash., to teach schoolchildren about brains and neuroscience. But he has just discovered that the pipe cleaners used to construct neuron models were nearly used up the day before. Read more…

Brain donation at OHSU

GettyImages-837244454If a patient has a brain disease, usually the family will donate the brain for study after death for a couple of reasons.

The first is to find out the final diagnosis. The second is to understand what this means for other family members, usually children or siblings.

They want to know what are the chances that others in the family will get this or a similar brain disease?

Contrary to common belief, Alzheimer’s and most other age-related brain diseases are not always inherited.

There are few gene mutations that produce Alzheimer’s disease but these are estimated to account for only around 5% or 10% of Alzheimer’s patients.

Patterns of inheritance of a combination of other non-mutated genes contribute to about 40-50% of the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but do not typically lead to the disease. Unfortunately, no amount of testing of these genes can predict with certainty whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

So it appears that, taken together, genetic factors determine only about half of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

So what causes disease in others?

We assume that the disease in these people is triggered by something, or a combination of things, in the environment. However, what these are, when they have their effects, and how these work on the brain to produce disease remains completely unknown.

In this way, brain diseases are similar to many other diseases such as cancer, that have known risk factors but that still appear somewhat random in terms of who precisely gets a disease versus who does not.

Our limited understanding of what exactly causes brain disease makes us want to learn more so we can prevent them or find a cure.

Most age-related brain diseases are incurable and ultimately fatal. Families feel powerless when they watch a loved one lose their mental capabilities and often their identity. Donating brain tissue for research can provide a sense of empowerment and purpose to those left behind often tempering the grieving process and sense of loss.

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Randy Woltjer, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Pathology and Director, Neuropathology Core of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared in the The Layton Center’s newsletter, the Alzheimer’s Update, a biannual publication that features stories on Layton Center and national research, experiences of volunteers in some of our studies, and cognitive health. Subscribe here.

Concussion clinic improves care through integration of specialties

Tyler Duffield, Ph.D., Ryan Rockwood, ATC-R, ITAT, and James Chesnutt, M.D.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, with transient brain impairment that naturally resolves, but can have prolonged symptoms for some individuals. The Concussion Treatment Clinic within our sports medicine department is constantly assessing how to best diagnose, treat and help people recover from concussions.

Our aim is to treat the whole person by approaching the problem from multiple angles with early and action-oriented intervention, but with enough flexibility to help individuals at any point during recovery.

We’ve found that integrating concussion providers from multiple specialties helps us gain a more comprehensive picture of the patient.

Our athletic trainer (ATC) jointly sees patients alongside our physicians.

The ATC contributes expertise in sideline concussion management, providing reliable information to the provider so they can maximize their time with patients. The ATC also interfaces with schools and coaches regarding concussion status.

The neuropsychology fellow, who has expertise in cognitive and mental health, provides additional information for providers to facilitate decisions about return to play and recommendations regarding accommodations at school.

We also collaborate with physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, and occupational therapists (all housed at the OHSU Center for Health & Healing) when necessary for any given patient.

The clinic’s goals are to return individuals to normal daily activities as soon as possible, which we know prevents prolonged concussion symptoms, as well as  provide treatment for individuals who are experiencing prolonged concussion symptoms.

Entire clinic days are now dedicated specifically to concussion assessment and treatment clinics.

We have also created an acute and prolonged symptom treatment clinic. The acute clinic provides:

  • Physiologic recovery testing (e.g., a treadmill test)
  • Early exercise regimen
  • Sensory/motor interventions from the ATC
  • Early education, including expectation management
  • Brief cognitive/emotional screeners
  • Sleep intervention
  • Plans for incremental resumption of normal daily activities by the neuropsychology fellow

The sports medicine physicians then make medical clearance decisions incorporating information provided by the ATC and neuropsychology fellow.

The treatment clinic for prolonged symptoms uses generally the same protocol, but we typically see people who would have benefited from the prevention work in the acute treatment clinic, but never had the opportunity.

Many of these individuals have experienced prolonged sleep dysregulation, activity withdrawal (physical, recreational, social), mood changes, or a combination of all three.

When we can normalize sleep patterns and return activity levels back to pre-injury levels, prolonged symptoms reliably decrease and often resolve.

OHSU provides full-service care for concussion management. Learn more.

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Tyler_Duffield

 

Tyler Duffield, Ph.D. is a Psychologist Resident and Pediatric Neuropsychology Fellow with the OHSU Sports Medicine Program who specializes in concussion. 

 

 

Ryan Rockwood photo

 

Ryan Rockwood, ATC-R, ITAT is a Certified Athletic Trainer in the OHSU Sports Medicine Clinic.

 

 

 

Jim Chesnutt photo

 

James Chesnutt, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and Medical Director of the OHSU Sports Medicine Program.

 

 

Caregiver Corner: Holiday travel tips

As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to traveling to visit friends and family.

Many families ask me about traveling with family members with dementia. Here are my top tips.

Plan your trip carefully.
If flying, give yourself extra time at the airport to avoid stress. The airports can be busy and overwhelming over the holidays, so pace yourselves.

Give yourself a cushion of time for extra bathroom and meal breaks. Consider asking for a wheelchair (even if your companion can walk). With a wheelchair, you may be able to get closer to the front of the TSA security line, thus reducing stress for both of you.

Tell your hostess and host about your situation.
Close friends and family members such as daughters and sons will be able to tell that your companion is having memory trouble.

It can be very stressful for them if they don’t understand the situation. They can be supportive of you if they know about the dementia.

Stay on schedule.
If you can, try to keep on your home schedule and get plenty of sleep.

Sign up for Safe Return.
Consider signing up with the Safe Return Program through the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org). Those with dementia may wander during travel. Safe Return can provide some reassurance for all of you.

Plan for time to re-adjust back home.
You may be looking forward to getting home so you can relax, but often the return can be stressful too.

Ask friends to make a casserole for you, turn the lights on and turn up the heat in your house so it feels welcoming to both of you when you return. 

Cancel when necessary.
If the trip feels too stressful for you, cancel it. Your gut feeling is probably right.

Ask your family member’s health care provider to help with the decision or support. Sometimes advice or a letter from the provider can smooth hard feelings when you have to cancel.

Remember, pace yourself, get plenty of rest, and prepare for a pleasant homecoming.

For more guidance, or to review these tips, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website: www.alz.org or call their helpline: 1-800-272-3900.

 

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allison lindauer
Allison Lindauer, Ph.D., N.P. is Assistant professor and director of outreach, recruitment and education for the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

 

Caregiver Corner: 8 ways to reduce the stress of holiday meals

family enjoys a holiday meal

Holiday meals can be very stressful for caregivers for persons with dementia. Here are some tips to keep the meals pleasant.

1. Tell your guests about the dementia diagnosis ahead of time.
It can be very confusing for all if the diagnosis is kept as a secret.

2. Consider the timing of the main meal.
If your family member with dementia typically is anxious or agitated in the afternoon or evening, consider having a brunch for your holiday meal.

3. Recruit family members to help.
For example, if your family member typically carves the turkey, but now you feel nervous about this, ask a grandson or daughter to take “Dad” in another room to read a book, watch a football game, or look at family photos. Identify this helper ahead of time and coach him or her carefully.

4. At the table, put your family member with dementia between two people he or she knows well.
This will make him or her feel more comfortable.

5. Avoid skipping meals.
For example, don’t skip lunch in anticipation of a large evening meal. Stay on your familiar schedule. If you are too busy to think about lunch, have another family member take your care-recipient out for a slice of pizza, or sit with him while he eats a peanut butter sandwich.

6. Avoid large amounts of alcohol.
Your family member may like a glass of sparkling cider as much as a glass of wine, and he or she will be able to stay engaged with the event longer.

7. Ask your family member to lead the family in the traditional prayer, song, or story.
This communicates to him or her that she is valuable to the family.

8. Allow time to recover.
Plan to take the next day “off” so both of you can return to your normal activities.

Bonus tip: Don’t hesitate to ask others for help.
This gives others an opportunity to support you during the holidays and this can be very gratifying for them. They will learn about your care-recipient and hopefully, can be more engaged in future events.

This also teaches younger family members about the value of respecting elders and can give them a sense of accomplishment. Make sure to tell them how much you appreciate their help at the end of the event, or write them a note later.

For more help, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website: www.alz.org or call their helpline: 1-800-272-3900.

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allison lindauer


Allison Lindauer, PhD, NP, Assistant Professor; Director, Outreach, Recruitment & Education, Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, OHSU.  

Discovering the latest in TBI research, evaluation and treatment

For many graduate students, myself included, conferences and symposiums are little more than an opportunity to stuff your face with free food, nervously defend your most bewildering preliminary data, and awkwardly attempt what socially adept people call “networking”.

However, last week’s TBI symposium was different. It offered attendees a crash course on what scientists and clinicians from around the country were learning about TBI.

Jamshid Ghajar MD, PhD, FACS, is a board certified neurosurgeon, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, Director of the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center and President of the Brain Trauma Foundation in New York City and Palo Alto.

Jamshid Ghajar M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S,. is a board certified neurosurgeon, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, Director of the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center and President of the Brain Trauma Foundation in New York City and Palo Alto.

Being brand new to the research world of traumatic brain injury, or TBI for short, this was just what the doctor ordered.

The symposium, aptly named “From Research to Recovery” was divided into two days. The first focused on the latest findings from TBI research, while the second concentrated on evaluation and treatment interventions.

Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, a clinician and researcher from Stanford University, was the keynote speaker for the research portion.

He explained the lack of a universal diagnostic criteria for assessing concussions (a mild form of TBI) and shared how his research on visual attention and orientation could better measure the severity of post-concussive symptoms.

His talk was followed by several OHSU and Portland VA researchers discussing their work on a wide range of related topics.

Dr. Eric Schnell explained how TBIs can counterintuitively increase neurogenesis, but create less effective neurons that are abnormally shaped and poorly integrated in the brain. Researchers from Dr. Fay Horak’s lab shared their work analyzing altered gait and posture following mild TBIs, and how their novel rehabilitation therapy was able to improve patients’ balance.

Drs. Melissa Papesh and Fredrick Gallun examined how TBIs impaired auditory processing in ways that go undetected using normal hearing tests, and provided innovative methods for diagnosing hearing dysfunction using custom developed iPad apps.

Stanley A. Herring, M.D. Clinical Professor, Departments of Rehabilitation Medicine, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, and Neurological Surgery University of Washington

Stanley A. Herring, M.D.
Clinical Professor, Departments of Rehabilitation Medicine, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, and Neurological Surgery
University of Washington

Afterwards, I was able to present my own research during a poster session alongside some of the best TBI researchers at OHSU.

The second day featured the recovery aspect of the symposium. Dr. Stanley Herring, from the University of Washington, gave an in-depth breakdown of newly proposed guidelines for concussion treatment.

Dr. Jim Chesnutt provided insights into common mistakes made by physicians while treating concussions, and the day ended with breakout sessions by OHSU’s multi-disciplinary TBI team discussing appropriate methods for evaluating post-concussion symptoms.

Overall, the event provided me with a foundational understanding of the issues and obstacles in TBI research and piqued my curiosity to learn more. There was also plenty of free food.

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Pic-Nadir

 

 

Nadir Balba is a Ph.D. student in OHSU’s Behavioral Neuroscience department.

Innovative technologies used for the assessment of concussion and TBI

Neuropsychologists measure the relationship between how the brain is functioning and how people think and act as a result. Although they have incorporated advances in brain imaging to improve our understanding of brain-behavior relationships, the field has been slow to embrace technology to improve our assessments of a patient’s ability to perform everyday activities like the ability to drive or predict performance in the classroom. Many of our paper-and-pencil tests have been computerized, but this has not done much more than automate the older tests without providing new information.

With concussion, the computerized testing we use (the ImPACT test) for return-to-play or return-to-school decisions with athletes and non-athletes can be complicated by many daily life factors such as stress or poor sleep.Virtual reality testing environments used to assess concussion

Although our testing does a good job of finding cognitive difficulties, it could be better at predicting what exactly those difficulties look like in the real world. Examples might include subtle swerving in a driving lane or an attentional delay in braking, all factors that make driving unsafe.

This is why I began working with my research collaborator, Thomas Parsons, Ph.D. He is an innovatortaking our cognitive tests and embedding them in virtual reality.

We still get all of our old cognitive data, but now it also comes with automated logging of behavioral responses synced with stimulus presentations like how stressed the person may be while testing (psychophysiology). It also tracks body movements like a head turn towards a distraction while testing.

Additionally, this testing occurs in a simulated dynamic real-world environment. This is an improvement over older testing environments that typically used a static stimulus presentation in a research lab. The virtual simulation allows for a more practical assessment for someone performing real-world tasks with real-world stressors and distractions.

This helps us better understand all of the sub-component processes that may lead to difficulties with attention while also better predicting how attention affects real world behaviors. The combination allows us to be more confident in deciding how safe it is to return to sport or driving, be it in the moment, or after another week of recovery for a concussed individual.

We are also beginning to conduct research using a virtual grocery store for teenagers and adults, and have been conducting research using a virtual classroom for youth. Additional hallway and playground scenarios (i.e., a virtual school) are in the process of being added.

Our findings so far show positive improvements to the practice of neuropsychology. My hope is to do further research to see how it can improve the testing and management of the concussion/TBI of the patients I work with in the OHSU Sports Medicine program.

If interested in participating in virtual reality research, please contact our research coordinator, Sarah Mastel, at 503-494-2442 or mastel@ohsu.edu. We are looking for children through young adults (29 or younger) to serve as research controls, as well as individuals with ASD, ADHD, and/or those have sustained a concussion/TBI.

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Tyler_Duffield

Tyler Duffield, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychology fellow with the OHSU Sports Medicine program who specializes in concussion. 

 

 

OHSU research targets chronic balance dysfunction in mTBI patients

Abnormal balance control during standing and walking has been documented in patients who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussion. These problems may improve over the weeks following injury for many people, however, balance related impairments remain a common complaint in those suffering from the chronic effects of mTBI.

: Sway of patient before (black line) and after (blue line) rehabilitation

Sway of patient before (black line) and after (blue line) rehabilitation

Under the lead of Dr. Laurie King (PI), postdoctoral scholars Dr. Lucy Parrington and Dr. Peter Fino are seeking ways to better measure components of balance in the chronic mTBI population, and how this information can be translated into clinical practice for evaluation and rehabilitation.

Through the use of novel multi-modal testing procedures, Dr. King’s team has begun investigating balance and gait in patients with chronic balance dysfunction following mTBI.

Their preliminary findings have indicated that patients with chronic mTBI weight the information from sensorimotor, vestibular and visual systems in a different way when compared with healthy participants during postural assessments, and that they reorient their body in a different way when turning during mobility tasks.

In addition to investigating objective ways to quantify balance and gait in patients with chronic mTBI, members of Dr. King’s team are also evaluating the use of auditory biofeedback during rehabilitation.

: Example of one of the balance tests

One of the balance tests

The study aims to enroll patients with chronic mTBI, who have had balance related symptoms persisting greater than 3 months, into a 6-week targeted rehabilitative program.

The intervention uses novel tasks aimed at improving the interaction between somatosensory, visual and vestibular systems. To assess the effectiveness of the intervention, changes in balance measures and symptoms are compared to those collected on healthy people over the same timeline.

The research is in the early stages of investigation, but preliminary analyses are indicating promising improvements in patients following rehabilitation. However, the research team will have to wait until further patients have been evaluated to see whether auditory biofeedback enhances the recovery process.

The team working on this research also includes: Dr. Robert Peterka1, Ms Alexa Beeson2, Dr. James Chesnutt3, Dr. Timothy Huller4, Dr. Jenny Wilhelm5, Dr. Marco Jurado4, and Dr. Sean Kampel1.

Funding:
This work was supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs under Award No.W81XWH-15-1-0620. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.

Affiliations:
National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, VA Portland Health Care System
Balance Disorders Laboratory, Neurology Department, OHSU
Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine, OHSU
Department of Otolaryngology, OHSU
Department of Rehabilitation Services, OHSU

 

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Lucy Parrington, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Balance Disorders Laboratory at OHSU.

 

 

How to talk about a tough topic: Tips for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Dr. Alan Teo shares the right way (and the wrong way) to talk  about suicide.

In less than a month since its debut on August 17, a music video whose title is a phone number has garnered 41 million views on YouTube (and counting quickly). The song is called “1-800-273-8255” by hip hop artist Logic. The video tells the story of a young black man who struggles with family and peers not accepting his sexuality; it is extremely moving to watch.

YouTube Preview Image

Perhaps even more telling are these numbers, though. In the weeks following the single’s release, calls directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline rose by 27%, and visits to their website increased from 300,000 to 400,000.

Why would a music video do that? It turns out that the phone number 1-800-273-8255 is that for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers 24/7 crisis counseling.

For those of us who grew up with another popular song using a fictitious phone number for “Jenny” (867-5309), it is amazing to see the popularization of the phone number for a very real suicide prevention lifeline.

There is a pressing and ongoing need for this type of suicide prevention awareness. While we as a nation have made progress cutting down the number of preventable deaths, we have not been successful with suicide. And it’s getting worse.

Here in Oregon, on average, a person dies every 12 hours by suicide. And more than five times as many people die by suicide than by homicide.

While Logic did a commendable job, others in the public eye have been a disservice to suicide prevention.

The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” illustrates the problem. This series centers on a high school student who dies by suicide and has been a huge hit for Netflix. It graphically shows the main character using a lethal means of suicide (one no-no) and then provides no information on crisis resources before or after episodes (another no-no).

As a result, research has shown that Google searches related to killing oneself have markedly risen. Locally, suicide attempts seem to have risen too after some vulnerable viewers watched the series.

This is the hard thing about suicide prevention. There is a right way and wrong way to talk about suicide.

Vetted guidelines developed by the World Health Organization and others are readily available. Unfortunately, my observation has been that the media, even when well-intentioned in their reporting, frequently forget to follow these guidelines, such as including mention of suicide prevention resources.

So what can you do to help? By reading this, you’ve already taken a positive step. And next time you see a report about suicide in the media, let the reporter know if they haven’t followed the guidelines. By combining our efforts, we can make real progress in suicide prevention.

If you are having a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or text Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

 

Dr. Alan Teo

 

Alan R. Teo, M.D., M.S, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and School of Public Health at OHSU, and a Core Investigator at the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care at the VA Portland Health Care System.

Follow Dr. Teo on Twitter @psychteo or find more information at DrAlanTeo.com.

A look back at SAIL, the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning

As students end their summer break and head back to school this month, we take a look back at July’s  Summer Academy to Inspire Learning (SAIL), a week-long summer camp for high school students organized in collaboration between faculty at Portland State University (PSU) and the Youth Engaged in Science (YES!) program in the Fair Neuroimaging Lab (FNL) at OHSU.

SAIL at PSU was launched in summer 2011 and is modeled after the SAIL program at the University of Oregon which was started in 2006. The program is free to students and led by volunteer faculty with the aim of increasing the number of low-income and underrepresented minority students enrolling and succeeding in college.image5

Faculty work closely with administrators and teachers at the lowest socio-economic status (SES) middle and high schools in the Portland area to recruit students who have the potential to succeed in college, but are at risk of not realizing this potential due to low family income, parents without college educations, or related factors.

To ensure success in the long run, SAIL follows students throughout their high school education inviting them back to a new camp each year.

The SAIL curriculum at PSU is designed to allow students to experience the college environment through activities ranging from academic talks by volunteer faculty from different disciplines, to sessions on financial aid and admissions, to academic tutoring and SAT preparation. An integral part of the curriculum includes activities that educate and inform about socially responsible practices related to financial and environmental sustainability.

The Fair Neuroimaging Lab’s YES! program has been leading the SAIL summer camp at OHSU for the past 6 years, providing educational programs and tours of various OHSU institutions and research labs. This year, YES! welcomed 12 students from Reynolds, Park Rose, Gresham, and David Douglas high schools for our annual SAIL program. The SAIL curriculum at OHSU focuses on introducing students to Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.

VirtuOHSU Simulation and Surgical Training Center Tour

SAIL 2017 at OHSU kicked off with a tour of the VirtuOHSU Simulation and Surgical Training Center. Prior to the tour, our group attended a “Surgery 101” presentation provided by Dr. Donn Spight, Medical Director of VirtuOHSU and Associate Professor of Surgery in the Division of Gastrointestinal and General Surgery at the OHSU School of Medicine.

Dr. Spight provided an engaging presentation describing different surgical procedures and their clinical applications, including minimally invasive surgery, which is his specialty. His presentation included an interactive discussion about the various tools used in surgery, which the students got to hold, learn how to use, and pass around.

Towards the end of his presentation, Dr. Spight, along with Patrick Corran, Simulation Operations Specialist and Bryan Shryner, Simulation Assistant at VirtuOHSU held a career discussion with the students. The students learned about the steps they would need to take, including college courses as well as research/internship experience that would lead to medical careers.

EEG demonstrations in Dr. Sarah Karlunas’ Lab

The next morning,  the group headed to Dr. Sarah Karalunas’ lab to get a demonstration of the research applications of Electroencephalography (EEG). EEG is a noninvasive brain imaging tool that records electrical activity using multiple electrodes placed on the scalp.IMG_20170718_104531194

Christiana Smith, a research technician in the lab gave the students a brief description of how the electrodes measure voltage fluctuations generated by neural activity. Through the process, students had a chance learn about the different components of, and the electrical properties that govern nerve cells.

The discussions also touched on the different clinical applications of EEG, such as in diagnosing epilepsy and sleep disorders, as well as the research applications in the Karalunas lab investigating the brain-basis of developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Finally, the students had a chance to learn about and participate in a variety of neuropsychological assessments that the Karalunas lab usually administers to research subjects, giving the students a glimpse of what being a research subject entails.

Advanced Imaging Research Center Tour

Before heading out to lunch, our students then headed to the Advanced Imaging Research Center to get a tour of the MRI facilities used for research purposes.

Dr. Alex Stevens welcomed our group with a big smile, escorted us to the restricted rooms housing the 7-tesla MRI machine. Before getting a chance to see the scanners, Dr. Stevens provided a safety check to ensure that all of us were demagnetized. Keys, cellphones, credit cards and all metals had to be taken out of our pockets and put away.

He also ensured that none of us had MRI-contraindications, such as metallic devices in our body which would become lethal if placed close to the powerful magnets in the MRI machines. The students had a chance to learn how MRI machines work, the types of  images that can be generated using different sequences, and the clinical and research applications for those images.

Portland Alcohol Research Center Presentation

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Mark Rutledge-Gorman from the Portland Alcohol Research Center presented on the effects of alcohol (and other drugs such as methamphetamine) on the nervous system.IMG_20170718_133953611_HDR

Our students learned about the neurotransmitter pathways and brain regions that are affected by alcohol, as well as the effects of acute and extended alcohol use on brain functioning. They had a chance to experience the effects of alcohol on visual-motor tasks (walking in a straight line) using prism goggles that were designed to simulate the effects of alcohol on the visual system.

Mark’s presentation concluded by turning the students into young scientists, where they conducted an interactive simulated experiment to examine the dose-dependent effects of alcohol on spatial exploratory behavior of different genetic strains of mice.

Medical Tools Station

The “Medical Tools Station” was organized by Mollie Marr, MD. PhD. candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience and Natalie Virell, 3rd year medical student in the School of Medicine. In this hands-on demonstration, Mollie and Natalie demonstrated how stethoscopes are used to assess lung and heart health.

IMG_20170718_143618357The students also learned how to use reflex hammers to test for tendon reflexes, a simple neurological exam used to test for central and peripheral nervous system abnormalities.

They also explored use of otoscopes and tuning forks to assess auditory function. Despite attending the demonstrations late in the day, the students were enthusiastically engaged by Mollie and Natalie’s dynamic and interactive presentation.

ONPRC Tour

The next day, the group boarded a shuttle bus and headed for a tour of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Our tour began with a presentation by Lynda Jones that provided a brief history of the primate center, the types of animals present, and the types of scientific research conducted at the center.

For instance, the group learned how a condition resembling multiple sclerosis developed in the Japanese macaque population at the primate center, offering the center scientists a unique opportunity to study the neurodegenerative disorder using primate models.

Human Performance Labs Tour

In the Human Performance Labs, we were greeted by Alex Kanable, exercise physiologist and research technician. Alex explained how experts in sports medicine help their clients, often elite athletes, reach their fitness potential and how they help improve the athletes’ performance.IMG_8602

Next, Alex recruited one of us to volunteer for a hands-on demonstration of the health and fitness evaluation procedures in the lab. As organizer of the SAIL program at OHSU, I was the lucky contender for the demo.

Alex, along with Dr. Kerry Kuehl, Section Chief and Director of the Lab, conducted the evaluation process my monitoring my resting and active blood pressure, as well as monitoring my heart rate at rest and during exercise using electrocardiography (ECG).

Following discussion of how they assess heart and lung function, Dr. Kuehl and Alex discussed healthy nutrition and exercise habits, and gave each of us a pedometer as a parting gift.

Brains & Art with NW-NOGGIN

The final day of the SAIL camp started with a “Brains & Art” session with the North West Neuroscience Outreach Group Growing In Networks (NWNOGGIN).

image4NWNOGGIN volunteers and Dr. Bill Griesar, co-founder of the outreach program, came equipped with real human brains and supplies for constructing neuroscience inspired art, such as pipe-cleaner neurons.

SAIL students spent the morning talking about a variety of neuroscience topics ranging from how alcohol and other psychoactive drugs such as methamphetamine affect the brain, to discussions of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, and conversations about the effects of emotional context and race on face perception.

SAIL 2017 culminated with conversations between our students and a career panel composed of several members of the NW NOGGIN outreach group as well as members of the Fair Neuroimaging Lab who were at different stages of their careers.

Students had a chance to hear about the different trajectories followed by each of the panel attendees that led to their current position. The students learned that there was no clearly defined path to becoming a neuroscientist; instead different types of training, be it in computer science, biological sciences, psychology, and biomedical engineering can all prepare one for a successful career as a neuroscientist.

Another constant theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of identifying and establishing close connections with multiple mentors, be it for career advice or just to discuss challenging life issues. They learned about the instrumental role that mentors played in the lives and careers of the panel attendees.

Our discussions concluded with a message from me encouraging them to maintain the connections established in SAIL 2017, and affirming that the door is always open for the students if ever they need career guidance in the future.

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Binyam NardosBinyam Nardos is a post-doctoral researcher with Dr. Damien Fair in Behavioral Neuroscience. His research uses behavioral and functional MRI techniques to understand how face perception is influenced by race and socioemotional context.

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