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NIH grants $917k to UTSA researcher to fund important study on memory
Jacqueline Beretta

June, 2009

Have we considered that an important way to make permanent change in our communities is to go to the root of our issues, and figure out how to fix them?  Life experiences in our children’s early years, during childhood and adolescence, help shape their emotional well-being, future habits, while neglect or harsh parenting may change the brain for good, leading to a unsuccessful adulthood.  Their brains are flexible, making and breaking neural connections faster than the speed of light.  We need more data to know how to help guide our children on a positive path of life.

 It is important to understand how various experiences and their related memories affect the future of our youth in regard to the ramifications of these experiences. Good experiences and healthy memories can alter health, mental health, relationships, ethics, and the list goes on and on.

The 1880’s began a decade of research and the publishing of books devoted the study of psychology and the memory.  One of the most important and fast paced areas of science is the study of the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.  

It’s awsome to note that in 1890, William James published his important book The Principles of Psychology, which first addressed the beginnings of formal research on memory.  The book’s chapters addressed habit, association, and memory.  William James wrote,

Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in a plastic state….Every smallest stroke of virtue or vice leaves its never so little scar.  The drunken Rip van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, “I won’t count this time!” Well!  He may not count it, and a kinf Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted nonetheless.  Down among his nerve cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptaition comes.”  (p127)

 

So, how does the brain work?  Over the last 40 years, studies have taght us much.  And since all learning is brain based, it follows that we should all be familiar with some knowledge of how the brain senses, processes, stores or memorizes, and retreives or remembers information.

Every 16 hours, give or take, the brain’s hippocampus makes six to nine thousand new neurons in the dentate gyrus, the portion of the brain which is believed to play a significant role in the preservation of episodic, or autobiographical, memory.  Researchers have learned that nuerons respond to patterned and repetitive, rather than to sustained, continuous stimulation, just as William James explained over 100 years ago.

But how do those neurons store information?  And, more importantly, how do they decide which information to store and which to discard? 

University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) researcher Brian Derrick hopes to soon find out.   The UTSA neurobiologist, a member of UTSA’s Department of Biology and its Neurosciences Institute, has won $917,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health to research these and other related questions.

This grant is significant, and because fo my No BandAids via Philanthropy theory1, I encourage you to read, ingest, and understand the significance of this grant and the ensuing study of how the brain works to gather more information to help us attack the root cause of our societal problems.

According to Derrick, the key lies in the difference between learning and memory. 

“Learning is the acquisition of new knowledge,” he notes.  “Memory is the persistence of learning over time.  This kind of memory does not simply involve ‘what’ and ‘where’ events occurred; ‘when’ is also a crucial variable.  We believe the continual generation of new neurons in both rats and humans serve as a temporal marker for highly similar memories.  Because time also plays a role in memories, the contribution of these new neurons to episodic memory is the focus of this four-year grant.”

Although memory loss is most commonly associated with aging, it is also symptomatic of more debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, which collectively afflict 9.3 million people around the world.

About the University of Texas at San Antonio

 

The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the fastest growing higher education institutions in Texas and the second largest of nine academic universities and six health institutions in the UT System.  As a multicultural institution of access and excellence, UTSA aims to be the Next Great Texas University, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

                UTSA serves more than 28,400 students in 64 bachelor’s, 47 master’s and 21 doctoral degree programs in the colleges of Architecture, Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering, Honors, Liberal and Fine Arts, Public Policy, Sciences and Graduate School.  Founded in 1969, UTSA is an intellectual and creative resource center and a socioeconomic development catalyst for Texas and beyond.

No BandAids via Philanthropy theory1Jacqueline Beretta’s theory that critical change is based on philanthropic investments in programs that address causal issues, not simply programs that BandAid a problem.



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