Last week, we celebrated the most mysterious and fascinating organ in the body—the brain! —by participating in Brain Awareness Week, March 14-20. The goal of Brain Awareness Week is to increase public awareness about the brain and the progress and benefits of brain research. At NINDS, our mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease for all people. There is so much about our brains that we don’t yet understand, yet there are lessons from brain research that are important to share with the public.
NINDS has played an active role in Brain Awareness Week since it was launched 26 years ago by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI). Brain Awareness Week reminds us that the more we learn about brain development and function, the more we understand how to keep our brains healthy throughout our lives. Moreover, brain research is essential to meeting the tremendous challenges posed by such common disorders as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. This research also helps us learn about hundreds of less common disorders that affect the development and health of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and neuromuscular system or muscle. At NINDS, we are working diligently every day to shed light on these and other neurological diseases to enable their prevention and treatment.
DABI, which founded Brain Awareness Week alongside the European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), is a nonprofit organization of more than 600 pre-eminent neuroscientists dedicated to advancing education about brain research. Brain Awareness Week is an annual international partnership of government agencies, scientific organizations, universities, and volunteer groups. Since its founding, Brain Awareness Week has become a global education initiative that has included the participation of more than 7,300 partners in 120 countries. During the 2021 campaign, partner events were held in 32 states across the US and in 44 additional countries.
Throughout this year’s Brain Awareness Week, NINDS released daily social media clips with information to address several myths associated with the brain. From “whether the size of your brain defines how smart you are,” to “only the elderly can suffer a stroke,” NINDS scientists and staff contributed to myth-busting by sharing the truth about the body’s crown-jewel.
NINDS also partnered with several other NIH Institutes in the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Brain Awareness Day social media campaign. On March 19, the NINDS video “How Hot is It?” used exposure to varying temperatures of water to demonstrate that previous experience affects how we perceive the world. A second video, “Nerve Signals and Fire Tornadoes” explained the physics of how nerve cells send signals rapidly, enabling our brains and bodies to communicate and function. Finally, in a third video, “Hear and See the Brain and Muscles Talking,” NINDS trainees showed how people can measure their reaction times to understand the speed of electrical signals sent between the brain and muscles.
Last week also saw NINDS and the NIH BRAIN Initiative launch the 2nd Annual BRAIN Initiative Challenge Essay and Video Contest. This exciting prize opportunity is a federal challenge for high school students across the country who are curious about science, the brain, and the ethical implications of novel technologies being developed to study the brain and treat brain disorders. Eligible students can submit their ideas and perspectives as a 2-page essay or a reading about the diverse winners who participated in the first iteration of this educational opportunity, announced during Brain Awareness Week in 2021.
Many more Brain Awareness Week events took place all over the world, and additional activities will continue throughout the year. The Dana Foundation hosts a calendar with links for information, including how to participate, and 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 provides information on more than 400 neurological disorders from A to Z as well as primers on the brain itself in Brain Basics. Our NINDS Contributions to Approved Therapies web resource describes paths leading to the development and approval of treatments for neurological disorders by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Finally, you can also read about the latest scientific advances through our NINDS news and press releases, NINDS Deputy Director Dr. Nina Schor’s blog, NIH BRAIN Initiative Director Dr. John Ngai’s Director’s Messages, NIH-wide news and press releases, and the NIH Director’s blog.
Through Brain Awareness Week – and indeed, every day throughout the year – we celebrate the importance of the brain and brain research.