By David Hungate
VTCRI to host sixth annual Brain School, other Brain Awareness Week activities
The brain is boss, most of the time. Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s sixth annual Brain School, “Hijacking and Augmenting the Brain: Drugs, Bugs, and Devices,” will focus on how outside factors can influence the brain’s chemistry and decision-making capacity and how the brain can interface with the outside world through digital devices. The school will run from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12, through Wednesday, March 14, with each evening focusing on a different topic as a part of an international Brain Awareness Week campaign.
“This is an opportunity for our scientists and the public to have a dialogue on some of the most fascinating topics in the science of brain and mind,” said Michael J. Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “Right here in Roanoke, our research teams are contributing to the understanding of brain function in health and disease, shaping the worldview of neuroscience. We are excited to share these discoveries and engage the community in a conversation about these issues of great importance to us all, including the opiate addiction crisis.
This year’s Brain School will mix panel discussions with interactive lecture-style presentations, with a different topic featured each evening. A welcoming reception will precede each brain school class at 5:30 p.m., followed by the lectures and panel discussions at 6 p.m. A special student exhibit will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14.
Monday, March 12
The Nature of Addiction
Addiction has traditionally been treated as an acute problem, but the current clinical, research, and social landscapes are converging to approach addiction as a chronic disease. This panel discussion will be moderated by Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. The panelists include Warren Bickel, a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, director of the VTCRI Addiction Recovery Research Center, co-director of the VTCRI Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors, and a professor of psychology in the College of Science; John Burton, the chair of emergency medicine at Carilion Clinic; Beth Macy, author of the upcoming book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America”; Bob Trestman, the senior vice president and chair of psychiatry at Carilion Clinic and the chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; and Phyllis Whitehead, a palliative care clinical nurse specialist at Carilion Clinic.
Tuesday, March 13
Brain Invasion: How Small Things Have Big Consequences
The tiny drivers of your brain and behavior – neurotransmitters – can be hijacked by parasites and even your own biology. This lecture will be presented by Michael Fox, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, director of the VTCRI Developmental and Translational Neurobiology Center, and an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science.
Wednesday, March 14
Student Science at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.: VTCRI students will share their work through fun and interactive exhibits.
Kids’ Night: Digital Devices and Development
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: This panel discussion will address the positive and negative aspects of today’s digital world, and how technological advancements affect human development. The panel will be co-moderated by Stephen LaConte, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute who is also with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering, and Audra Van Wart, the director of education and training at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and co-director of the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program at Virginia Tech. The panelists include Bob Trestman, the senior vice president and chair of psychiatry at Carilion Clinic and the chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Erik Scarlatescu, a high school student who attends Cave Springs High School and the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School; and Sheila Umberger, the director of Roanoke Libraries.
Every March, Brain Awareness Week unites the efforts of organizations worldwide in a weeklong celebration of the brain. It is spearheaded internationally by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research, and by the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in the Roanoke and New River Valley region.
“The campaign is aimed at increasing public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research,” said Friedlander, who is an elected member of the Dana Brain Alliance. “Although the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute has research thrusts in addition to neuroscience, brain research is a key part of its portfolio and it is why this area is becoming known for transforming Virginia from the train state to the brain state,” Friedlander said. “We hope to engage as many community members as possible and share the excitement of brain discoveries, making us all more aware of our brains and their tremendous potential and adaptability to multiple challenges.”
Space for Brain School is limited, so registration is required. Please follow signs on site to the parking garage across from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, located at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke.