My blog usually celebrates biomedical advances made possible by NIH-supported research. But every August, I like to try something different and highlight an aspect of the scientific world that might not make headlines. This year, I’d like to take a moment to pay tribute to just a few of the many NIH family members around the country who, without pay or fanfare, freely give of themselves to make a difference in their communities.
I’d like to start by recognizing my wife Diane Baker, a genetic counselor who has always found time during her busy career to volunteer. When I was first being considered as NIH director, we had lots of kitchen table discussions about what it might mean for us as a couple. We decided to approach the position as a partnership. Diane immediately embraced the NIH community and, true to her giving spirit, now contributes to some wonderful charities that lend a welcome hand to patients and their loved ones who come to the NIH Clinical Center here in Bethesda, MD.
Tags: brain cancer, Camp Fantastic, childhood leukemia, Children's Inn, Friends of Patients at the NIH, genetic counseling, giving back, music, NIH Clinical Center, Special Love for Children with Cancer, The Children’s Inn at NIH, The Edge, U2, volunteerism, volunteers
It’s not every day that an amateur guitar picker gets to play a duet with an internationally renowned classical cellist. But that was my thrill this week as I joined Yo-Yo Ma in a creative interpretation of the traditional song, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” Our short jam session capped off Mr. Ma’s appearance as this year’s J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture.
The event, which counts The Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, and Atul Gawande among its distinguished alumni, this year took the form of a conversation on the intersection of music and science—and earned a standing ovation from a packed house of researchers, patients, and staff here on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, MD.
Tags: brain, cello, cerebral cortex, chamber music, classical music, dopamine, evolution, How Can I Keep from Singing, J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture, music, neuroscience, neuroscience of music, Science, world music, Yo-Yo Ma
When children enter the first grade, their brains are primed for learning experiences, significantly more so, in fact, than adult brains. For instance, scientists have documented that musical training during grade school produces a signature set of benefits for the brain and for behavior—benefits that can last a lifetime, whether or not people continue to play music.
Now, researchers at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, have some good news for teenagers who missed out on learning to play musical instruments as young kids. Even when musical training isn’t started until high school, it produces meaningful changes in how the brain processes sound. And those changes have positive benefits not only for a teen’s musical abilities, but also for skills related to reading and writing.
Posted In: Science
Today is International Rare Disease Day. In honor of the occasion, I’d like to pay tribute to a few real-life heroes whose struggles have forever changed the landscape of rare disease research.
Folk singer Woody Guthrie is best known for his song, “This Land Is Your Land.” Written more than 70 years ago, “This Land” has taken its place among our nation’s great anthems, setting forth a vision of inclusiveness that has inspired generations of Americans to “sing along.” But the last couple of verses are often omitted. Here’s a version of one of them:
As I was walkin’—I saw a sign there
And that sign said—no trespassin’
But on the other side … it didn’t say nothin’!
Now that side was made for you and me!
These verses brought into the foreground those whom society had marginalized. “This Land” reminded us of their existence, challenged us to live up to our ideals—and include all people in our best vision of ourselves.
Woody performing one version of “This Land”:
Even as he was singing about inclusiveness, Woody Guthrie was starting a long battle against a disease that increasingly cast him outside mainstream society: Huntington’s disease. In most cases—and as was indeed the case for Woody—symptoms of Huntington’s disease do not appear until adulthood. Gradually, this rare, inherited neurological disorder seizes control of its sufferer’s body, mind—and even voice. In 1965, 13 years after he was diagnosed, Woody fell mute. He had long since lost his ability to play guitar. Two years later, he died at the age of 55.
Tags: genetics, Hereditary Disease Foundation, Huntington's disease, Huntington's Disease Society of America, Marjorie Guthrie, music, Nancy Wexler, NCATS, Orphan Drug Act, rare disease, Rare Disease Day, research, Smithsonian Folkways, therapeutics, TRND, Woody Guthrie