Creative Minds: Mapping the Biocircuitry of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

Bruce Yankner

Bruce Yankner

As a graduate student in the 1980s, Bruce Yankner wondered what if cancer-causing genes switched on in non-dividing neurons of the brain. Rather than form a tumor, would those genes cause neurons to degenerate? To explore such what-ifs, Yankner spent his days tinkering with neural cells, using viruses to insert various mutant genes and study their effects. In a stroke of luck, one of Yankner’s insertions encoded a precursor to a protein called amyloid. Those experiments and later ones from Yankner’s own lab showed definitively that high concentrations of amyloid, as found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, are toxic to neural cells [1].

The discovery set Yankner on a career path to study normal changes in the aging human brain and their connection to neurodegenerative diseases. At Harvard Medical School, Boston, Yankner and his colleague George Church are now recipients of an NIH Director’s 2016 Transformative Research Award to apply what they’ve learned about the aging brain to study changes in the brains of younger people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, two poorly understood psychiatric disorders.

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Cool Videos: Alzheimer’s Disease

NIH logo, surrounded by a filmstrip border

To keep everyone energized during the hot, hazy days of summer, I’ve decided to start a new series called Cool Videos. This virtual mini-film fest will feature a variety of videos—some even produced by researchers themselves—in which biomedical science plays a starring role.

Throughout August, you’ll have a chance to screen some of the winners of a recent video competition celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the NIH Common Fund. These short clips, created by NIH-funded researchers, include a parody of “Breaking Bad,” some underwater camerawork reminiscent of Jacques Cousteau, and even a rap video.

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