Weeklong Celebration Helps the Public Learn the Importance of the Brain and Brain Research

Weeklong Celebration Helps the Public Learn the Importance of the Brain and Brain Research

This week, we celebrate the most mysterious and fascinating organ in the body—the brain—by participating in Brain Awareness Week, March 11-17. The goal of Brain Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of the brain and the progress and benefits of brain research. NINDS has played an active role in Brain Awareness Week since it was launched more than 20 years ago by the Dana Foundation for Brain Initiatives, and we have watched it grow to the global effort of celebrating the brain that it is today.

After all, the brain is the most complex part of the human body. It is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of body movement, controller of behavior, keeper of memories, and the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. It is the crown jewel of the body, yet brain disorders are some of the most disabling and costly chronic diseases. The human brain has 86 billion neurons along with other cells that make more than 100 trillion connections. Not enough is known about brain circuit function to meet the tremendous challenges posed by such common disorders as Parkinson’s disease, stroke autism, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury as well as hundreds of rare disorders that affect the development and health of brain, spinal cord, nerves or muscle.  The end goal of the NINDS is to shed light on these and other neurological diseases to enable their prevention and treatment.

Brain Awareness Week is an annual international partnership of government agencies, scientific organizations, universities, and volunteer groups. The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI), which founded Brain Awareness Week alongside the European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), is a nonprofit organization of more than 250 pre-eminent neuroscientists dedicated to advancing education about brain research. Over the years, the event has grown to include the participation of over 5,600 partners in 120 countries, and last year’s effort involved nearly 900 events in 42 countries and 44 states.

During Brain Awareness Week, several institutes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including NINDS, will showcase interactive exhibits and lectures focusing on brain health and neuroscience at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. The NINDS exhibit will use brain models and our interactive Brain “Lobe-oratorium” to highlight what each brain lobe does for perception, thinking, personality, and behavior. Students and teachers will have the opportunity to hold a real human brain, explore how the brain works, and discover what happens when the brain is altered by disease and drugs. They will be able to talk with NIH scientists about the exciting brain research being conducted through such programs as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) Initiative. In addition to teaching participants about the brain and brain health, we hope that a visit will inspire some students to choose careers in neuroscience. These events on Saturday March 16 will be free and open to the public: click here for more information.

Of course, many more Brain Awareness Week events will take place all over the world, and additional activities continue throughout the year. The Dana Foundation website hosts a calendar with links for information, including how to participate, and also provides accessible resources to help organizations plan their own Brain Awareness events.

Beyond Brain Awareness Week, we at NINDS work year-round to raise awareness and knowledge about the brain and neuroscience research. Our Brain for Life website resource provides information on more than 400 neurological disorders from A to Z as well as primers on the brain itself in Brain Basics, and our NINDS Contributions to Approved Therapies web resource describes paths leading to the development and approval for neurological disorders. You can also read about the latest scientific advances through our news and press releases, and through the NIH Director’s blog.

As one exciting example of a program that engages the public in brain and health research,  the NIH, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (KC), and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched the Sound Health Initiative in 2016, to promote research on the health effects and potential therapeutic applications of music. NIH believes that understanding music’s myriad effects could be uniquely useful to improve health. To that end, NIH recently invited applications for fundamental research focused on unraveling the mechanisms used by our brains and bodies to respond to and interact with music, as well as studies using music-based interventions to help treat disease. NIH, KC, and NEA have also hosted a series of events open to the public exploring the connections between music, health and wellness, and science, including a concert featuring NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, world-renowned soprano Renée Fleming, and Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. The Sound Health Initiative shows how research can bring together diverse groups (musicians, therapists, scientists) to work toward a common goal, and have fun at the same time!

I encourage you to participate in Brain Awareness Week, wherever you may be. You can attend an event, share the importance of your own research, or tell others about some of these activities and resources. NINDS will be posting throughout Brain Awareness Week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out NINDS Brain For Life and NINDSnews for updates! Use the hashtags #BrainWeek #BAW2019 to join the conversation. Through Brain Awareness Week and every day, we celebrate the importance of the brain and brain research.

Monday, March 11, 2019