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24.2.11

Scientific acupunture

Have you ever pointed at something with a pin? I mean, really? Because if not, you're probably not a scientist.

You see, as a scientist, I do a lot of pointing at things: I point at screens with laser pointers, at whiteboards with my finger, or even at other scientists when I'm laughing at their terrible hypotheses.

But that pales in comparison to how often I point with pins. So. Many. Pins. And as a neuroscientist, most of my pinpointing is at the brain:

Bradley Voytek,Brain,zombie,felting,etsy,ThePinkPirate,Surpreyes

Usually, we're pinpointing where in the brain things like love and snuggles are located. But sometimes we're more sophisticated. From the media, I have learned amazing things, such as the fact that:
  • "...[S]cientists have pinpointed the part of the human brain that holds information momentarily about where things are located." Or that,
  • "Scientists have pinpointed a source of nicotine craving in the brain, opening up a new path towards drug treatments to help smokers kick their habit."
You see, according to the media, it would appear that the primary role of science is to pinpoint when or where things happened. Forget about hypothesis generation and testing, complex argumentation and subtle logic, or elegant mathematics. Just point to where something is happening. Preferably with a pin.

Sometimes we pinpoint when in evolution things happened:

Sometimes we pinpoint naughty genes:
  • "Scientists have pinpointed a key cancer-causing gene that, when overactive, triggers a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer to develop."

Sometimes we pinpoint mutations:

Sometimes we pinpoint hormones:

But sometimes, it's not scientists who do the pinpointing. The media likes to shake it up and go crazy and shit. Sometimes they let researchers pinpoint things, too. (More naughty genes):
  • "A... researcher has pinpointed the mechanism by which a gene associated with both autism and schizophrenia influences behavior in mice."

Or let "experts" pinpoint brainy regions about abstract concepts:
  • "Experts have pinpointed the part of the brain that guides people when they are battling with difficult moral dilemmas, according to a study."

This serves as a reminder to science journalists: if you're going to write about a scientific finding, please don't forget to tell us, your readers, where that damned clichéd pin is pointing. Otherwise how the hell else are we supposed to understand science?

As a final note: those must be some pretty damn big pins. Because I guarantee, with stats like p = 0.05, those pinpoints are more like giant, fuzzy pinblobs. But then again, "scientists find suggestive evidence based upon possibly faulty statistical assumptions for..." doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Bradley Voytek pin the tail on the donkey


Science is hard, let's go shopping.



ResearchBlogging.orgCohen, J. (1994). The earth is round (p less than 0.05) American Psychologist, 49 (12), 997-1003 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.49.12.997Courtney SM, Petit L, Maisog JM, Ungerleider LG, & Haxby JV (1998). An area specialized for spatial working memory in human frontal cortex. Science, 279 (5355), 1347-51 PMID: 9478894Fowler CD, Lu Q, Johnson PM, Marks MJ, & Kenny PJ (2011). Habenular α5 nicotinic receptor subunit signalling controls nicotine intake. Nature PMID: 21278726

21.2.11

Measuring the Cupertino Effect in the amygdale and cingulated cortex

The "Cupertino effect" is the bane of anyone who's used a digital word processor, iPhone, whatever.

Let me explain myself.

Imagine you're sending a text to your beautiful pregnant wife to let her know you'll be heading home soon. However, automatic text replacement ("autocorrect") fails you horribly:

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale autocorrect


While the appearance of this phenomenon in texting is relatively new, this problem has been around for quite a while. According to the Oxford University Press:
Some older spellcheckers had wordlists containing co-operation but not cooperation without the hyphen. So when a user typed in unhyphenated cooperation, the spellchecker would flag it as an error. The first suggestion thrown up was not co-operation, however, but Cupertino, the name of a city in northern California.
Turns out, this effect can be measured in the brain.

Haha, just kidding (but I bet someone will do an fMRI study about that now).

This effect can be measured in the literature though, to see who's not paying close enough attention to their paper editing. There are two words that Microsoft Word likes to "help out with". According to PubMed:

"Cingulated" is... not really a word... I have no idea why that's in the standard Word dictionary when "cingulate" is not. As for "amygdale": amygdale.

You see, if you just blindly have Word autocorrect your misspelled words, it will just change out what you write without you even noticing its effects. I've long since added the correct versions of the terms to my custom Word dictionary, but papers are still being published with the incorrect spelling of "cingulate" and "amygdala".

A neat way to visualize the effect Word has had is by looking at the nGram for "cingulated":

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale


The word "cinguated" is virtually non-existent until about 1997, when it suddenly takes off. The fact it shows up in nGram at all means it's appearing in published books, too.

To be fair, it appears that a number of the papers published in the neuroscientific literature with these errors were written by research groups that are from countries where English is not their first language. But these papers aren't just passing authors' scrutiny, but peer-reviewers and editors, too. It amazes me.

Another fun thing we can do with these words is to check out what they're associated with in the literature using brainSCANr.

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale


Compare that to the entry for "amygdala".

What's amazing to me is that papers with "amygdale" also have the correctly spelled "amygdala" in them!

It's something that journalists fall prey to as well. Here's an article from the LA Times from earlier this month Depression: Here's a gene that may make some folks more susceptible, talking about the "rostral anterior cingulated cortex".

So be warned neuroscience writers of all sorts: add some brainy terms to your Word dictionaries to prevent this kind of silliness!

(By the way, I'm not picking specifically on just the paper below, it just so happens to be the only manuscript that contains both incorrect terms in the title or abstract.)

ResearchBlogging.orgGraff-Guerrero, A., Pellicer, F., Mendoza-Espinosa, Y., Martínez-Medina, P., Romero-Romo, J., & de la Fuente-Sandoval, C. (2008). Cerebral blood flow changes associated with experimental pain stimulation in patients with major depression Journal of Affective Disorders, 107 (1-3), 161-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2007.08.021

16.2.11

An ode to Mike, the headless chicken

(This post amuses me. This is the strangest juxtaposition of research papers and topics I've written about. You'll see.)

An ode to Mike, by Bradley Voytek

There once was a farmer from Fruita
Whose chicken caused quite a hoopla.
     For what happened next,
     Made farmer Olsen quite perplexed!
And as for the chicken, no "clucks", just some "ooh-aahs".

For that farmer had wanted a snack.
So he went and grabbed his old axe.
     He took a big swing,
     And said, "this might sting".
And for Mike the Chicken there was no turning back...


Bradley Voytek Neuroscience Mike the Headless Chicken

I first learned about poor Mike the Headless Chicken from Aubrey Gilbert, my neuroanatomy TA. Aubrey used to run these semi-annual lectures for the Berkeley Cognitive Science Student Association called "Feel Dead Brains". After Aubrey graduated, I took over these events and had the pleasure of doing lots of lectures for the CSSA.

And although Mike never really made the final cut in my version of the Feel Dead Brains lectures, he always had a special place in my heart.

To give a bit of a background about Mike, he was just a chicken raised on a farm by Lloyd Olsen. Olsen went out to behead Mike one day, but cut slightly higher on the neck then he should have. Like my brilliant limerick above says, instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and then dying like normal, Mike just kept on running around. According to Wikipedia:
The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact. Despite Olsen's botched handiwork, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither. After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. When used to his new and unusual center of mass, Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat, leaving him unable to crow at dawn. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.

As far as anyone can tell, Mike's brain stem was still intact after his decapitation. As the Dick et al. paper linked to below discusses, the brain stem contains a host of important pontine nuclei that control respiration and heart rate. Basically, the brain stem controls the functions vital for life. And although Mike wouldn't be writing any sonnets (or limericks), his basic life functions were still intact. As long as farmer Lloyd kept feeding him, Mike could keep gurgle-clucking around.

Okay, quick anatomical lesson. Some of you may know by now that I'm a stickler for neuroanatomy. Whenever I teach neuroanatomy, I like to make sure my students have a solid understanding of the cranial nerves and their associated nuclei. The central nervous system (CNS) communicates with the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to maintain vital life functions. Most of the communication with the organs is via the tenth (of twelve) cranial nerve: the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects to three brain stem nuclei: the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve, the nucleus ambiguus, and the solitary nucleus.

If you've ever felt faint or passed out when having blood drawn (the "vasovagal response"), this is because of the mix of emotional stress and over-stimulation of the vagus nerve. But that's not all the vagus nerve does. So check this out: some women with spinal cord injury can no longer experience genital orgasm, because the signal from the genitalia to the brain has been cut (see my previous post about "phantom" orgasms). Well, it turns out that some of these women can experience a vagus nerve orgasm (see Komisaruk et al.). So, you know, over-stimulation of the vagus nerve isn't always a negative thing.

Awkward transition from orgasm back to the headless chicken


To this day, Mike's got quite a cult following. He's got his own website, as well as his own annual festival featuring a lawnmower race, 5k run, and the beautiful tagline:

Attending this fun, family event is a NO BRAINER


Mike's been featured in LIFE:



And had his own PBS special:



Again, according to Wikipedia (there aren't that many sources about Mr. Mike):
Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed calf. Mike was on display to the public for an admission cost of 25 cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken earned US$4,500 per month ($48,000 in 2010 dollars) and was valued at $10,000. Olsen's success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheadings, but no other chicken lived for more than a day or two.

That's right. Let me reiterate:
"copycat chicken beheadings"

Oh humanity, your beauty and grace brings a tear to my eye ::sniff::

But clearly, there could be only one. (How AWESOME would it have been if the Kurgan just kept running around headless because the Highlander cut a little too high, by the way?! Oooh, actually, I think I've found my follow-up topic for what to do after all my zombie brain stuff.)

Sadly, Mike's reign as the headless emissary had to come to an end:

In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back home from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. As the Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, they were unable to save Mike. Lloyd Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949. Other sources, including the Guinness Book of World Records, say that the chicken's severed trachea could not take in enough air properly to be able to breathe; and therefore choked to death in the motel.

There you go. Now you know the story about my favorite headless fowl. Please, no copycat beheadings though.

ResearchBlogging.org
Dick TE, Baekey DM, Paton JF, Lindsey BG, & Morris KF (2009). Cardio-respiratory coupling depends on the pons. Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, 168 (1-2), 76-85 PMID: 19643216
Komisaruk, B., Whipple, B., Crawford, A., Grimes, S., Liu, W., Kalnin, A., & Mosier, K. (2004). Brain activation during vaginocervical self-stimulation and orgasm in women with complete spinal cord injury: fMRI evidence of mediation by the Vagus nerves Brain Research, 1024 (1-2), 77-88 DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2004.07.029

14.2.11

Phantom orgasms, masturbation, and the female "problem"

Happy Valentine's Day! So I know it's all the rage to take a popular culture topic and write science-y about it. So I'm doing it, too. Whatever. I like to indulge once and a while.

To celebrate the love and intimacy of this beautiful day, we're gonna talk about some nice, classic, sex studies from days gone by. There've been some... interesting hypotheses and theories about sex, sexuality, and orgasm over the years, which have produced some good, chuckle-worthy studies (and quite a few serious ones).

First is a paper from 1954 titled, Some Considerations Concerning Orgasm in the Female. It really sets up the mood with a quote from Freud:
The sexual frigidity of women . . . is still a phenomenon which is insufficiently understood.

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience Orgasm


Frigidity indeed! Oh yeah, this paper's gonna be a good one.

In reading this I tried to be objective; you know, take into account the context of the times and all of that. But really this is such an odd paper to read and at times I couldn't help but find my jaw dropped. Right out of the gate, the Introduction establishes the scientific "problem" of interest:
...the mechanisms underlying orgasm in the female remain shadowy and obscure. On the physiological side is the fact that the female orgasm is not accompanied by an objectively perceptible emission as is that of the male, which not only makes it difficult at times for the woman herself to recognize, but also makes it impossible for any external observer to be certain about it.

::blinks:: "difficult at times for the woman herself to recognize"? Huh.

The paper starts by taking a "pathologization" tone toward female sexuality, with a strong Freudian basis, e.g.:
Freud advanced the thesis that genital erogenicity in the normal female, although first centered in the clitoris, eventually becomes transferred to the vagina; and that sexual orgasm in the mature, healthy female should be in response to vaginal rather than clitoral stimulation.

But it does end with a rather more tempered tone. Since I've got a few papers to talk about, I'll just recommend that the reader check this out. It's easy to read and gives a fascinating insight into 1950s era psychiatry. It has section titles such as "Importance of Clitoris" and "Orgiastic Impotence", and discusses research by folks such as "Horney". Teasing aside, it does adopt a somewhat mature neuroscientific view by the end:
As in the male, the intensity of orgasm in the female varies with the degree of psychological excitation present. In a purely spinal reflex, due only to mechanical stimulation of either the penis or the clitoris, the orgasm is generally experienced as a localized and limited reaction... Where the cortical excitation is of a particularly high order, the orgastic reaction may be so intense and generalized as to result in convulsive twitchings which are almost like minor epileptic seizures... It would be pertinent in this regard to do electroencephalographic studies of cortical patterns during intense orgasm.

EEG studies of orgasm you say? Don't mind if I do!

Here's a paper from 1985 titled, EEG during masturbation and ejaculation. In this study, they had three men masturbate and ejaculate while undergoing EEG. If you don't know about EEG, read my post on neuroimaging techniques. My first thought when reading this paper was along the lines of: I worry so much about eye, muscle, and movement and other artifacts in my EEG research... how'd these researchers deal with the... "movements"... associated with their behavior of interest in this study?!

However, the authors didn't really do any strong quantitative analyses of their EEG. More just qualitative observations. The methods in this paper are a great read, though. They recorded 14 channel scalp EEG. In addition, they also recorded:
  • "Anal Contractions" with a "pressure-sensitive anal probe".
  • "Penile Tumescence" with a "mercury strain gauge". Unfortunately, "[t]he masturbatory movements interfered with the recording".
  • "Wrist Accelerometer" that was "taped to the dorsum of the hand (right) used in masturbation".

And the procedures really give you a sense of the beauty of the entire setup:
Subjects were instructed to avoid unnecessary movements, and their compliance was verified by video monitoring of head and torso throughout the session.

That seems like a very comfortable situation. But luckily:
All subjects successfully achieved orgasm, as indicated by self-report in the questionnaire results, by their button-press responses during the masturbation sequence, and by the presence of a sequence of repeated rhythmic contractions of the anal muscles registered by the anal probe.

Amusingly:
The average length of masturbation to the first anal contraction was 402 seconds (range, 157-733 seconds), and the average duration of anal contractions, measured from initial to final contraction, was 37 seconds (range, 25-49 seconds)... In addition, subjects reported a variety of common accompaniments of orgasm, including erection, ejaculation, muscular contractions, and alterations in awareness... [and] [t]he wrist accelerometer tracings showed rhythmic masturbatory movements.

Overall the paper is quite devoid of any real theoretical grounding for why they recorded EEG during masturbation, or what an effect of interest would look like or mean... but it made for a fun paper.

The last paper is a 1960 manuscript titled Phantom Orgasm in the Dreams of Paraplegic Men and Women. There's not a lot to make light of with this one. It's fascinating, and very thoughtful and considerate of the patients interviewed. I'll close out with the authors' words:
Though there were individual variations and exceptions on many points, a general finding was that patients did not have the subjective feelings of sexual urge and gratification they formerly could experience. The finding of most importance was that it is possible for vivid orgasm imagery to occur in the dreams of paraplegics, despite total lack of somesthetic sensation from, and paralysis of the genitopelvic area. Congnitional eroticism is a variable of sex that may be entirely independent of genitopelvic sensation and action. The imagery of orgasm in paraplegic's dreams may be regarded as a special example of the phantom phenomenon.

ResearchBlogging.orgMarmor J (1954). Some considerations concerning orgasm in the female. Psychosomatic Medicine, 16 (3), 240-5 PMID: 13167252

Graber B, Rohrbaugh JW, Newlin DB, Varner JL, & Ellingson RJ (1985). EEG during masturbation and ejaculation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14 (6), 491-503 PMID: 4084049

Money J (1960). Phantom orgasm in the dreams of paraplegic men and women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 3, 373-82 PMID: 13772009

8.2.11

Nerd Nite zombie brain talk online!

Last month I gave a talk at Nerd Nite San Francisco. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was the most fun I've ever had giving a talk before. I spoke for about 30 minutes about the zombie brain. I think I'm really funny. It may help that I was 2-3 beers into the night when I gave the talk.

If you know absolutely nothing about me and the zombie neuroscience stuff, skip below the video to read about it. In brief: I love it because I get to flex my explaining and hypothesis-generating muscles to try and reverse engineer what a zombie brain must look like.

Nerd Nite SF: "Scanning the Zombie Brain" by Dr. Bradley Voytek, 1/19/11 from nerdniteSF on Vimeo.


Okay, so why zombies? As I explained in an earlier post:

Partly because it’s a great way to talk about some really complicated neuroscience stuff in a way that engages the public’s interest. If you start talking about the subtleties of how neuroimaging and lesion research shed light on how different brain regions interact to give rise to complex... zzzzZZZZZZzzz. Right?

Though note I'm trying to figure out a writing style that is more the "real" me that explains this stuff and is still interesting.

Continuing on:

I mean, I care a lot about this stuff, but if you talk about how brain regions could interact to give rise to a ZOMBIE, suddenly normal people are interested, too.

We decided right from the start that all the neuro stuff we would talk about would be 100% true (except for the fact that there could be a zombie, of course).

We wanted to trick people into learning about neuroscience.

And at the end of the day, I get such a kick mixing Serious Science with something totally ridiculous like zombies. I get to make fun of my field and be a nerd about it.

And hell, because of this I've been on National Geographic, I'm on the Zombie Research Society advisory board, I get to speak at zomBcon in Seattle every year with some really cool people, and I got to meet and interview George Romero!

Bradley Voytek George Romero Zombie Neuroscience Neuroscientist


It's not often that people get to have fun with their jobs. It's too often that scientists take themselves too seriously. I want to do more of the former, less of the latter.

7.2.11

A neuroscientific renaissance

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a hub for the biotechnology industry, with several of the top-earning biotech companies headquartered in the greater Bay Area, including Genentech, Gilead Sciences, and Genencor.

Another major metropolitan hub for this industry is Cambridge, MA.

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone paying attention given the fact that these two metropolitan regions are home to 5 of the top 20(ish) research universities: the Universities of California, Berkeley and San Francisco, and Stanford, for the Bay, and Harvard and MIT for Cambridge.

Education and research breed innovation, and the Bay area have these things in spades. It's not an accident that Silicon Valley, NASA's Ames Research Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Google, Xerox PARC, and so many other centers for technological innovation are in the Bay. San Francisco and San Jose often atop US "smartest cities" lists.

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience San Francisco


The whole vibe of the city is one that just begs you to be smarter, to innovate and join a research lab or start-up. Hell, go onto Twitter or Quora and look how many Bay Area folks refer to themselves as "entrepreneurs". Check out how many TEDx events are in the Bay Area:
Not to mention all the nerdy events to attend: Yuri's Night, Ask a Scientist, Nerd Nite, and so on. And, of course, Burning Man started here.

So here's my theory. It's well-known that the digital revolution of the 1960s was spurred on by government, private, and military money flowing into private and academic research in the area. This early success lead to a lot of industry/academia collaborations. As biotech and pharmaceutical innovations began to flourish in the 1980s, Bay Area scientists who had long watched their tech colleagues run off to start companies began to do the same. Why not?

And while the 90s were officially the "Decade of the Brain", it's not been until recent years that technological advances in fields outside of neuroscience have given rise to possible market products.

Obviously new ideas are built upon old ones (see Gladwell's arguments as to why "simultaneous discoveries" are not so rare). To quote wikipedia:

Multiple simultaneous discovery is actually a surprisingly common phenomenon, perhaps largely explained by the idea that previous contributions (including the emergence of contradictions between existing theories, or unexpected empirical results) make a certain concept ready for discovery.

I believe neuroscience is experiencing a renaissance, and the emergence of several neuroscience-based start-ups is really a byproduct of that. There are so many neuroscience start-ups in the Bay right now, it's ridiculous. I feel perfectly comfortable in declaring that the San Francisco Bay Area is Neuroscience Start-up Central:
What are the new ideas that are driving this shift in neuroscientific thinking?

Well first, the negatives. Although the advances in understanding provided by brain imaging such as fMRI have been widely lauded by the media, I believe the plug-and-play nature of the majority of research studies using that method have hindered innovation. (See my previous post on "how to be a neuroscientist".) This is true not just for fMRI, but it's the most widely-used method in cognitive neuroscience. It's too easy to conduct a publishable study that is very weakly hypothesis-driven (if there's even a hypothesis tested at all!)

However, in the last 10 years or so, there's been an influx of computer scientists, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, and other thinkers into neuroscience, which was a field previously dominated by psychologists (on the cognitive side) or microbiologists (on the cellular side). This mixing both across disciplines from researchers outside the field and within disciplines between cellular and cognitive neuroscientists provides a breeding ground for cool ideas.

Neuroscience is fairly unique among the sciences in that it pulls in from so many different disciplines. On a regular basis I draw upon my knowledge of: programming and data processing, signal processing, philosophy of mind (and science, of course), psychology, medicine (neurology and psychiatry), biochemistry, electromagnetics, cell biology, etc. Craziness.

I mean, think about the news reports your hear about neuroscience. They range from genetics to creating artificial brains! Hell, creating brainSCANr involved drawing upon a totally different skill-set than what most neuroscientists are used to. I wouldn't have made that site were I not surrounded by talented tech folks to support me, and my brilliant wife to actually make the damned thing. ;)

There's not another field like it. It's so exciting. And other scientists and innovators are starting to get excited about it to. People are just starting to realize the possibilities and, as more people get drawn into neuroscience, the advancements are only going to quicken.

The next 20 years are going to be amazing for neuroscience, and I'm glad to be starting my research career at the cusp of its renaissance.

(EDIT: My buddy Curtis sent me the link I was looking for to Paul Graham's essay about cities and ambition, which was the foundation for the beginning of this post here.)

1.2.11

Real-time Q&As are intense

Sorry for the self-promotional nature of this post, but I wanted to talk about a novel, interesting experience.

A little over a week ago, my research examining how people with prefrontal stroke compensate for brain damage was profiled in a piece in the Washington Post. As with all my research, I did a lay post explaining that work here before.

Bradley Voytek Washington Post


The whole media experience happened very quickly, but was pretty cool. You'll notice that the Washington Post article is actually focused on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and what we know about how the brain recovers from trauma (like from a gunshot wound). The article was written by Dr. David Brown, a physician affiliated with The Johns Hopkins Medical School and a staff writer for the Post. Dr. Brown was amazing to talk to about this, and I was honored to be discussed alongside such great neurologists such as Maurizio Corbetta, Michael Yochelson, and my PhD advisor, Robert Knight (seriously, I really was honored, that's not just me blowing smoke).

It was also really cool to work with the Washington Post staff to translate one of the figures from my Neuron paper into a more publicly friendly format. The graphic above (found here) was made by Bonnie Berkowitz, and very accurately shows our model for compensatory functioning.

It's fascinating to see my work in the press, although I'm learning that the nature of my research often means that it will be profiled mainly for tragic reasons.

After I heard about Rep. Giffords' surgical hemicraniectomy, I wrote a blog post about what that surgery means (and also posted it to Quora, where it got a huge reception).

I wrote about this topic because it related to some of the research I'd previously done when working with patients who had had the same surgery as Rep. Giffords (a hemicraniectomy).

What's interesting to me is that the Washington Post contacted me about my recovery work independent of my hemicraniectomy research. Obviously the press sees how important recovery research is on patients with brain trauma. Obviously people who require a hemicraniectomy have had some sort of neurotrauma. Working with these kinds of patients it that exact reason why I wanted to learn more about recovery.

Anyway, so after the Post piece was finished, I was asked to take part in a live Q&A session on their site.

For a little over an hour I answered as many questions as I could. All text-based. I logged into their site (and was immediately confronted with a big picture of BRAD, the same one from the Berkeley press release about my work).

BRAD
II
V

Bradley Voytek Washington Post


After my initial amusement at that, I saw the question queue. Oof. Tons of questions! I started with the questions at the top (the earliest ones), but some of them were far too personal to address. There's a lot of people in pain, or with loved ones in pain, out there who just want answers. Who just want some help. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the fortitude for a medical career, and this experience reinforced that.

Anyway, I managed to answer 14 questions in the time I had. Overall it was a great experience, but really intense. By the time I was finished I was pretty exhausted. That said, I'd be happy to do something like that again.

As an aside: I did the entire thing--starting at 9am my time--from a coffee shop in Berkeley. Modern technology is pretty cool.

ResearchBlogging.orgVoytek B, Davis M, Yago E, Barceló F, Vogel EK, & Knight RT (2010). Dynamic neuroplasticity after human prefrontal cortex damage. Neuron, 68 (3), 401-8 PMID: 21040843