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Take a look into our current understanding of the function of the human brain and some of the important diseases that cause nervous system dysfunction. On this edition, Jason Satterfiled, director of behavioral medicine at UCSF, explores the emotions and health and the promise of mind-body medicine.
How can we stay positive when competing demands and time pressure can impact everything from how our immune system functions, to whether or not we exercise, to the interactions we have with each other, and even to every breath we take? Our improved understanding of the relationship between behavior, physiology and disease development provides the rationale for integrative approaches that empower people for more mindful and effective navigation in today’s world. UCSF‘s Dr. Margaret Chesney presents some of the current research on mind-body interventions and provides strategies to help enhance health and well-being.
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Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain’s incredible power: its ability to actively re-wire itself. He’s researching ways to harness the brain’s plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function.
Michael Merzenich studies neuroplasticity — the brain’s powerful ability to change itself and adapt — and ways we might make use of that plasticity to heal injured brains and enhance the skills in healthy ones.
Why you should listen to him:
One of the foremost researchers of neuroplasticity, Michael Merzenich’s work has shown that the brain retains its ability to alter itself well into adulthood — suggesting that brains with injuries or disease might be able to recover function, even later in life. He has also explored the way the senses are mapped in regions of the brain and the way sensations teach the brain to recognize new patterns.
Merzenich wants to bring the powerful plasticity of the brain into practical use through technologies and methods that harness it to improve learning. He founded Scientific Learning Corporation, which markets and distributes educational software for children based on models of brain plasticity. He is co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Posit Science, which creates “brain training” software also based on his research.
Merzenich is professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Merzenich is perhaps the most recognizable figure in brain plasticity and how one develops competence through experience and learning.” Dominique M. Durand
Dean Ornish shares new research that shows how adopting healthy lifestyle habits can affect a person at a genetic level. For instance, he says, when you live healthier, eat better, exercise, and love more, your brain cells actually increase.
Dean Ornish is a clinical professor at UCSF and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute. He’s a leading expert on fighting illness — particularly heart disease with dietary and lifestyle changes.
Why you should listen to him:
Dr. Dean Ornish wants you to live longer, and have more fun while you’re at it. He’s one of the leading voices in the medical community promoting a balanced, holistic approach to health, and proving that it works. The author of Eat More, Weigh Less and several other best-selling books, Ornish is best known for his lifestyle-based approach to fighting heart disease.
His research at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (the nonprofit he founded) clinically demonstrated that cardiovascular illnesses — and, most recently prostate cancer — can be treated and even reversed through diet and exercise. These findings (once thought to be physiologically implausible) have been widely chronicled in the US media, including Newsweek, for which Ornish writes a column. The fifty-something physician, who’s received many honors and awards, was chosen by LIFE Magazine as one of the most influential members of his generation. Among his many pursuits, Ornish is now working with food corporations to help stop America’s obesity pandemic from spreading around the globe.
“Instead of trying to motivate [patients] with the ‘fear of dying,’ Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the ‘joy of living’ — convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer.” Fast Company
What controls aging? Biochemist Cynthia Kenyon has found a simple genetic mutation that can double the lifespan of a simple worm, C. elegans. The lessons from that discovery, and others, are pointing to how we might one day significantly extend youthful human life.
When it comes to aging well, having “good genes” (or rather, mutant ones) is key, says Cynthia Kenyon. She unlocked the genetic secret of longevity in roundworms — and now she’s working to do the same for humans.
Why you should listen to her:
Cynthia Kenyon is revolutionizing our understanding of aging. As an expert in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco, she is particularly interested in the influence that genetics have on age-related diseases (from cancer to heart failure) in living things.
Her biggest breakthrough was figuring out that there’s a “universal hormonal control for aging”: carbohydrate intake, which can have a dramatic effect on how two critical genes behave, reducing insulin production and boosting repair and renovation activities. So far, her theory has proved true for worms, mice, rats, and monkeys — and she suspects it applies to humans, too.
By studying aging, Kenyon believes that she and other scientists (many of whom have successfully duplicated her experiments) will be able to pinpoint the molecules responsible for the onset of age-related diseases in people and prevent them. She’s co-founded a drug-development company called Elixir Pharmaceuticals to do just that.
She says: “The link between aging and age-related disease suggests an entirely new way to combat many diseases all at once; namely, by going after their greatest risk factor: aging itself.”
“Ten years ago, we thought aging was probably the result of a slow decay, a sort of rusting. But Professor Kenyon has shown that it’s … controlled by genes. That opens the possibility of slowing it down with drugs.” Jeff Holly, Bristol University