Saturday, January 16, 2010

Neuroscience research goes deeper into the brain

Although we’ve learned more about the brain during the past decade than in the rest of the history of the world, the way the body’s most important organ works still remains much of a mystery.

This video highlights the work of some of the two dozen faculty members at UC Davis’s Center for Neuroscience. Established in 1990, the center unites researchers from several disciplines to conduct basic research on such questions as how the brain builds and loses memory, and how the visual system develops.

Their work helps brain surgeons develop new techniques, and provides important insights into debilitating diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and age-related vision loss.

“The basic scientists bring this very important and fundamental understanding to the M.D.s, so that they can then translate that into clinical health,” says center neurologist Charles DeCarli, a professor of neurology in the School of Medicine. “And the better integrated it can be, the more effective treatments will emerge.”

For example, Kim McAllister, an associate professor of neuroscience, physiology and behavior, and her students are studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms of how brain cells connect with one another in the cerebral cortex, an area of the brain that plays key roles in higher-order functions like memory, language and awareness.

And Charan Ranganath, an associate professor of psychology, is using advances in neuroimaging technology to determine how memory is affected by the tiny strokes that many people suffer as they age. Often these strokes are so minor that a person is unaware of them, but the damage they wreak on memory shows up in Ranganath’s images.

By treating such risk factors as hypertension and diabetes, Ranganath says, people can dramatically lower their chances of suffering these strokes and the memory loss that goes with them.

Paul Pfotenhauer is the broadcast specialist for UC Davis News Service. Ken Zukin is a videographer with Ken Zukin Productions.

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