Latest information on COVID-19

Stanford Medicine magazine explores the brain and nervous system

The new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine features articles about developments in neuroscience and treatments for conditions affecting the brain and nervous system.

- By Rosanne Spector

The new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine focuses on how researchers are unlocking secrets of the brain.
Illustration by Craig Cutler

The brain has long been a black box and, until recently, we were in the dark about anything that might have gone wrong under its lid and what to do about it. That’s changing.

A themed section of the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, “The most mysterious organ: Unlocking the secrets of the brain,” provides new insights into neurological conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to stroke and conveys clinicians’ optimism about the relatively recent understanding that the brain is surprisingly adaptable. As Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, wrote in his letter to readers:

“One of our most fascinating discoveries is that the brain isn’t as fixed and fragile as we once believed. The organ we thought was set in its ways by our late 20s is much more active — and resilient — for our entire lives.”

Advances in brain imaging and a more accurate understanding of the brain’s workings are enabling researchers and health care practitioners to develop new treatments. Some of these are available only at Stanford Medicine through clinical trials, while others have been adopted around the world.

The issue includes:

• A roundup of research and treatments aimed at addressing diseases of the brain and nervous system. These advances are enabling the paralyzed to move and the blind to see. They’re also suggesting strategies for preventing the loss of cognitive abilities.

• An article about brain trauma data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealing that women have a more difficult recovery from severe brain trauma than men do. The article is accompanied by a video featuring neurosurgery faculty members Odette Harris, MD, and Maheen Adamason, PhD, and a veteran talking about her experience of severe brain trauma.

• A story of the decadeslong quest to save more stroke patients from a life of disability. It was a tough sell to other neurosurgeons, but research by Gregory Albers, MD, and a team of researchers eventually succeeded in extending the window for effective treatment from just a few hours to a full day.

• A recounting of a high-stakes, innovative surgery to save a toddler’s life by removing a brain tumor through his nose.

• A Q&A with renowned flutist Eugenia Zukerman in which she reflects on the healing power of writing during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, her first book of poetry and the hope her poetry offers other patients.

• An article about an experimental treatment for Parkinson’s disease that seems like magic: a vibrating glove that reduces symptoms for patients who wear it a few hours a day.

• An essay adapted from a new book by psychiatry professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, Projections: A Story of Human Emotions, that describes an encounter with a young man who couldn’t cry and the neurological mechanisms behind shedding tears of joy and sorrow.

• A story about the efforts of neurosurgery chair Michael Lim, MD, to apply the successes of immunotherapy cancer treatments to some of the most pernicious tumors — those that originate in the brain.

• An article about an unusual surgery for a rare disease: Hope Kim needed a second bypass surgery to treat the brain disorder moyamoya, but no blood vessels in the scalp were right for the job. What to do? Professor of neurosurgery Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, piped a blood vessel from her abdomen up to her brain.

This issue also includes a profile of associate professor of bioengineering Drew Endy, PhD, who believes that solving civilization’s most vexing challenges depends on harnessing “bioengineering to flourish in partnership with nature,” and excerpts from The Puzzle Solver, by Stanford Medicine science writer Tracie White with professor of genetics and of biochemistry Ron Davis, PhD. The book describes Davis’ desperate attempt to find a cure for severe chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, which has left his son bedridden by pain, fatigue and other disabling symptoms.

Stanford Medicine magazine is available online at stanmed.stanford.edu as well as in print. Print copies of the new issue are being sent to subscribers. Others can request a copy by sending an email to medmag@stanford.edu.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

2021 ISSUE 2

Unlocking the secrets of the brain

COVID-19 Updates

Stanford Medicine is closely monitoring the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). A dedicated page provides the latest information and developments related to the pandemic.