NeuroFest is coming for Brain Awareness Week

NeuroFest is coming for Brain Awareness Week

Photo Credits: BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE

From brain zoos, trivia and research featuring mice on opioids, NeuroFest strives to bring a transformative experience for community members of all ages and backgrounds.

On Saturday, Mar. 9, the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience will host NeuroFest at the UC Davis Conference Center from 12:30 to 5 p.m. NeuroFest invites all Davis community members and UC Davis campus communities to spend a day exploring UC Davis research, culture and communities passionate about neuroscience.

“NeuroFest is a public outreach event led by the UC Davis CNS with the support of the Society for Neuroscience, UC Davis Neuroscience Graduate Group and the Dana Foundation,” said Diasynou Fioravante, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior and the NeuroFest co-chair. “Our goal is to inform the public on innovations about the brain, brain health, treatment for brain diseases and exciting brain science research at UC Davis.”

When Fioravante joined UC Davis as an assistant professor, she recognized that CNS lacked an outreach event promoting neuroscience research to the general public. She collaborated with other members from the CNS to develop her idea into the NeuroFest event, reaching the Davis campus community and beyond.

This year, NeuroFest celebrates its fifth year at UC Davis, focusing on “Mind in the Making: Executive Brain Functions in Health, Aging and Disease.”

Researchers from the CNS and across campus will feature their work and findings.

Tim Hanks, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurology, will discuss the decision-making process through neural mechanisms and how disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, shape decision-making.

“All the decisions we make are ultimately borne out through brain activity,” Hanks said. “Brain activity allows us to process information about the world around us, make decisions based on that information, and coordinate our actions based on those decisions.”

Jennifer Whistler, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology and associate director of the UC Davis CNS, will present her work with opioid addiction, including neurological mechanisms which can be used to make balanced, non-addictive drug treatments and how opioid addiction shapes behavior in mice.

“We have an opioid epidemic because people are in pain,” Whistler said. “Everyone wants to feel normal, and there’s stigma behind that. Opioids act like a light switch for pain that is always on, shining a light saying ‘feel no pain and instead only joy.’ The opioid light switch can’t be turned off. The cells go shop for dark glasses to make the light dim since the body’s natural light switch isn’t working. They make adaptations to make the light seem dimmer, even though the light is just as bright, which builds tolerance toward the effects of opioids. When you take away the light, the cells still wear their dark glasses in the dark, leading to withdrawal and unbalanced responses to pain.”

Brittany Dugger, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, will discuss aging and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“A lot of medicine is based on upper-middle class, white Caucasian volunteers,” Dugger said.“Our Alzheimer’s disease research studies people over the age of 65 of all different backgrounds, not just one group of people as so we can aid in providing information to allow for treatment and intervention for all people.”

Steve Luck, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology, will address how schizophrenia, among other disorders, affects attention, memory and cognition.

“Classically, schizophrenia was thought to involve an impairment in attentional “filtering,” or suppressing irrelevant inputs, such as one person talking when you’re trying to listen to another person,” Luck said. “However, by using state-of-the-art methods developed to understand attention in typical young adults, we’ve found that people with schizophrenia actually “hyperfocus” their attention. That is, under many conditions, they focus more intensely and more narrowly than typical people. However, they often attend to the wrong thing, so it appears on the surface that they are failing to attend.”

The day-long event features a poster competition, where graduate students and trainees compete as they convey their research findings to all attendees in an engaging way.

“One of our dynamic booth activities features a chance to control someone else’s movement, where electrodes are connected to someone’s arm and if you have electrodes connected to your hand,” said Najwa Marrush, the Neuroscience Graduate coordinator and events coordinator at the UC Davis CNS. “When you close your hand, the other person feels a pull and they close their hand.”

Attendees have a unique opportunity to vote and choose the best poster as poster judges. NeuroFest volunteers invite attendees to become judges, visit five posters and vote for their favorite research presentation.

“As someone who works behind the scenes, one of my favorite things at NeuroFest is seeing the kids in awe over the booths,” Marrush said. “They have so much joy on their faces as they see what’s going on in the brain, what it looks like and what each part does.”

The CNS also joins K-12 education for brain education and awareness. UC Davis graduate students and faculty visit local Davis schools, creating activities for different grade levels to learn and interact with brain research.

“When we visit the second and third-grade classes, we teach the students about helmet safety and traumatic brain injury,” Fioravante said. “We introduce students to neuroscience and brain research through games and interactive activities brain specimens and drawing different parts of the brain.”

Any UC Davis student is welcome to volunteer and become involved in the CNS’ outreach efforts, including NeuroFest.

“In celebration of NeuroFest’s fifth year anniversary, we are launching a $75,000 fundraising campaign to endow the Center for Neuroscience outreach efforts, including NeuroFest and K-12 education,” said Jennifer Scott, the director of Development at the UC Davis CNS. “We encourage the entire UC Davis family to donate on Give Day, April 12 through April 13, to support our efforts and reach our local communities with permanent community outreach efforts.”

Written by: Foxy Robinson — science@theaggie.org

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