Super Neuroscience Saturday

Saturday, November 23rd was a cold day for November but a great day for Super Neuroscience Saturday (SNS). Events celebrating the progress and promise of neuroscience were planned throughout the day, coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), along with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), culminating with an evening event hosted by AAAS.

At the evening event, twenty local neuroscientists presented their work at a poster session courtesy of the SfN Washington, DC Metro Area Chapter.  Guests also enjoyed the “Beauty and the Brain” art exhibit and a reception sponsored by AAAS. In the auditorium, approximately 125 guests were welcomed by Mark Frankel, Director of the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program at AAAS, Carlos Peña, Assistant Director for Emerging Technologies at OSTP, Dorothy Jones-Davis and Laurie Stepanek, co-leaders of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships NeuroPolicy Affinity group, and Heather Dean, representing both Neuropolicy and the SfN Washington, DC Metro Area Chapter. The presentations began with Dr. Philip Rubin, the Principal Assistant Director for Science at OSTP, who talked about the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative that President Obama launched in April as well as broader White House Neuroscience Initiative (WHNI) that aims to catalyze neuroscience-related advances in education and learning, brain injury and mental health, and other areas of applied research.

A number of speakers addressed those emphasis areas in more detail. Dr. Shari Ling, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Center for Clinical Standards & Quality in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spoke on “Alzheimer’s Disease, Adult Onset Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Pursuit of Higher Quality Health Care”, reflecting on the current transformation of the health care system, and stating that “the time is now” to make an impact on how we prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner for Teaching and Learning in the National Center for Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences spoke on “Neuroscience and Education”, giving the audience an example of how research on training attention can be used to improve learning outcomes. She reminded them that “rarely are solutions to education problems coming directly from neuroscience,” emphasizing the importance of including educators, learning scientists, and other specialists in these projects. Dr. Hunter Peckham, Donnell Institute Professor and Director of the Functional Electrical Stimulation Center at Case Western Reserve University talked about “Novel Neuroscience Applications”, particularly electronic implants to restore motor function. He described the challenges in bringing devices to market such as the expense and time involved in developing a specialized device for each particular purpose and the lack of knowledge of many of the circuits underlying function.

The panelists all seemed to agree that, in order to make significant progress toward national goals in neuroscience, it will be important to better integrate teams of scientists in both basic and applied areas of research as well as patients and the policy community. Sharing data, creating standards and databases, and streamlining the regulatory process are also critical. Scientists need to be trained to engage with the patient community and think about how their research outcomes might fill gaps necessary to treat disease. Public engagement is crucial. In closing comments, Dr. Rubin congratulated the groups that helped make Super Neuroscience Saturday a success, adding that such events can help raise awareness of and public support for this important field of scientific work.

This discussion on neuroscience in the policy world seems to be just beginning, creating even more excitement within the field; in tandem, increased public awareness about neuroscience and neurological disease have increased the public’s interest in and support of neuroscience and neuroscience policy. Given this unprecedented synergy between research innovation, increased policymaking, and public interest and support for neuroscience, it will be fascinating to see what happens next.

More information, including slide presentations, can be found at: http://aaaspolicyfellowships.org/event/super-neuroscience-saturday