Since it formed in 1992, the Dana Alliance has connected with millions of people through Brain Awareness Week; public events, symposia, and lectures; radio, television, and Web programs; periodicals and books from the Dana Press; and the Dana Foundation News Office. The spark to all this activity is the will of the 447 Dana Alliance and European Dana Alliance members (including 15 Nobel laureates) in the United States, Canada, and across Europe to get the message out about the progress and promise of brain research.
With news about the brain regularly on the front pages of daily newspapers and across screens both large and handheld, the Alliance’s efforts to bring the science to the people in ways that everyone can understand are essential. As the neurosciences advance at an ever more rapid pace, so do the complex and sometimes controversial ethical issues that arise around them. The Alliance also seeks to encourage scientists to think about neuroethical issues and to engage the public in a dialogue about them.
Brain Awareness Week 2006
Brain Awareness Week entered its second decade in 2006 with an appropriate theme: “Get Connected.” From its start in 1996 with 160 participating organizations in the United States, Brain Awareness Week has grown into a global network of events. In 2006, more than 1,963 partners in 67 countries participated; new countries added to the roster were Cameroon, Chile, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.
Taking place each March, Brain Awareness Week offers events that draw all ages but have a special appeal for young people. In the United States, more than 190 K–12 schools enrolled as partners, and many celebrated the week with activities such as classroom visits by neuroscientists, lessons involving dissection of sheep brains, student research projects, and art and essay competitions on brain-related topics. Other campaign partners include hospitals and universities, government agencies, and service organizations. The Dana Alliance organized its own events as well, including two regional rounds of the always popular Brain Bee competition, in Washington, DC, and New York. Dozens of Brain Awareness Week partners held their own Brain Bees, testing the neuroscience knowledge of local high school students and sending their winners to the International Brain Bee competition at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
At the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, more than 700 middle school and high school students visited special interactive stations throughout the museum during the week. Staffed by experts from Georgetown University, Howard University, the National Institutes of Health, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the stations presented such topics as memory and learning games, illusions, and descriptions of taste and smell (with treats as prizes).
In Europe, many events stressed the importance of an informed public to the neuroethics debate, and thus common themes (in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Poland) were brain imaging, surgical tools, and the ability of neuroscience to change or manipulate the brain. Partners in Switzerland took the lead with a two-day symposium featuring neuroscientists from around the world discussing neuroethics—one of 60 events held in that country. Another popular topic, particularly in Sweden, Spain, and Portugal, was drug abuse and addiction.
For the past five years, the Dana Alliance and the Dana Press have collaborated with Oregon Health and Sciences University in events that include lectures and interviews with Alliance members and Dana Press authors, book sales and signings, and interactive activities for all ages. More than fifteen Dana Alliance and European Dana Alliance members and Dana Press authors have participated in the university’s Brain Awareness events.
As coordinators of the campaign, the Dana Alliance and the European Dana Alliance provide their partners with an array of educational resources (in multiple languages) and services to use in planning events. The hub is the Brain Awareness Week Web site, found via www.dana.org, where partners can download information and brochures, find topics and tips for planning activities, and connect with the Alliance and others in their region to share in planning combined, bigger programs.
The Society for Neuroscience, a major collaborator in Brain Awareness Week since its start, joined Dana Alliance staff in 2006 to map plans to help the campaign continue to grow through its second decade. That work will continue in 2007.
Media in Many Forms
The Dana Foundation and the Dana Alliance use a variety of media, as close as a handshake and as far away as a Webcast across an ocean, to reach the widest possible range of people. Alliance members give lectures, participate in panels, and make themselves available to journalists and the general public. They know they are the best means of spreading the word about the present and the future of brain science, and they take that role to heart.
For example, in addition to recording their public lectures for Webcast, several Alliance members also recorded Web-only, one-on-one interviews during the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in October.
On the air
Our Gray Matters public radio series, which features stories on neuroscience, changed format in 2006 from a pair of hourlong programs to a series of fifteen- to twenty-minute segments that could be aired on many major radio programs.
Segments produced in 2006 include Dana Alliance members Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., on imaging and music and Gerald M. Edelman, M.D., Ph.D., on the science of improvisational dance. The programs may be found at www.dana.org, along with podcasts and Webcasts of many of the Alliance’s seminars, sessions, and workshops.
The Dana Alliance and its members also served as a source of reliable information for the producers of the IMAX film Wired to Win, which premiered in Boston in December 2005 and opened nationally in 2006. A “Resource Library” that
includes our materials is distributed with each copy of the film to teachers and education groups. Several Alliance members acted as advisors to the filmmakers.
Neuroeducation: Reaching Teachers and Students
Neuroeducation is our term for a Dana Alliance initiative to increase and improve neuroscience education in K–12 classrooms. In collaboration with other organizations, we aim to provide students with a solid understanding of the brain and brain research and, perhaps, to spark the next generation of neuroscientists. Improving such training is essential, especially as 2007 is when all U.S. students will start taking standardized tests in science.
Our grant to the National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education provides neuroscience workshops for teachers across the country using the National Institutes’ curricula and Dana brochures and other materials. Five programs took place in 2006, with about 100 teachers participating.
About 1,000 educators attend the biannual “Learning and the Brain” conferences, where Alliance members have been invited to present the most recent findings in neuroscience dealing with children and adolescents. In addition, Dana publications such as The Dana Sourcebook of Brain Science: Resources for Secondary and Post-Secondary Teachers and Students and It’s Mindboggling! are distributed at the conference and sent to teachers who request them later. We also supply the two-day Brain, Learning, and Applications Institute workshop for teachers in Avon, Connecticut, with Alliance materials and other resources.
For students, “Brainy Kids,” a section on the Dana Web site, includes lab tours, lesson plans, puzzles, games, and links to brain-related information. We also are collaborating with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (an organization of more than 540 science centers and museums) to provide speakers for programs directed at teenagers. In 2006, three science centers held multiple programs on topics related to drug abuse, teen depression, and brain function. The association of science centers and Dana also are creating a model for association member organizations to collaborate with universities in their communities to present educational neuroscience programs for the public, especially middle school and high school students.
The Adult Brain: Feeding the Neural Networks
Through public lectures, classes, symposia, and invitational meetings held at our various Dana Centers and elsewhere, we draw scientists and laypeople into conversation with one another on topics critical to their success—and to society’s future.
In 2006, one of our long-time projects, Staying Sharp: Current Advances in Brain Research, received a MindAlert
award from the Lifetime Education and Renewal Network of the American Society on Aging. Through Staying Sharp, we team up with NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community (formerly called the National Retired Teachers Association) to present sessions for its members that provide up-to-date information on how the brain works and how they can use that information to improve their own brain function and brain health, whatever their age. Since the program started in 1995, we have presented 28 live sessions to a total of 25,000 audience members.
Because interest in the program is so high, in 2006 the Dana Alliance and NRTA developed Staying Sharp In-a-Box, a PowerPoint presentation that includes video from a live Staying Sharp session filmed at the Dana Center in Washington, DC, in 2005.
More than one million copies of the first five booklets in the Staying Sharp companion series have been distributed or downloaded since they were developed in 2001. The sixth booklet, on successful aging, was released as an e-book this year. All Staying Sharp materials are available at a Web site hosted by NRTA and as well as at www.dana.org.
This year, the Dana Alliance, together with non-profit business group The Conference Board (TCB), tailored Staying Sharp information to address the specific cognitive changes and abilities of aging workers. The Conference Board’s goal is to put together a presentation for business owners and employers on the benefits of recruiting and retaining older employees. Alliance members are helping to identify the brain science issues that relate to mature workers and producing materials about what people can do to stay sharp and how employers can help in that effort. We are focusing on two areas—cognitive fitness and learning and training—and will produce a booklet on each subject in 2007.
In London, we are sponsoring a new project that combines our interests in learning through the arts, brain science, and new avenues of communication. The exploratory project by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, called Texterritory, will combine performance with audience participation—through text-messaging—to explore public attitudes toward mental health.
Dana Alliance members also have joined the Dana Foundation to support the new discipline of neuroethics, or the ethical implications of what we learn about the brain and how we use that information. In 2006, some members were among the founders of the Neuroethics Society, a forum for scientists, businesspeople, philosophers, scholars, and others interested in how society will answer such questions as whether “regular” people should use drugs that improve memory, whether your boss should find out what a brain scan reveals about you, and what equality will mean when some members of a group are “enhanced” via technology. More information on the Foundation’s work in neuroethics can be found in the grants section of this report.
European Dana Alliance for the Brain
The European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB) enters its tenth year in 2007 with 185 members in 26 countries. Its strength lies in its networking, in partnering with people and organizations with similar goals, with which expertise can be shared, and in its active membership.
European Dana Alliance members were active participants in “Meeting of Minds,” a series of national gatherings and regional conventions in which citizens from nine European countries discussed the ethical, legal, and social questions raised by recent breakthroughs and potential developments in brain science and what role regular citizens should play. This was the first such pan-European symposium on medicine, and the fact that neuroscience was chosen as the topic shows how important it is throughout European society. The project was the initiative of twelve organizations, including the Danish Board of Technology, the Eugenides Foundation in Greece, the Fondazione IDIS Città della Scienza in Italy, the University of Debrecen’s Medical and Health Science Centre in Hungary, and the Dana Centre in London, and was coordinated by the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium.
The three-year project concluded in Brussels in January 2006 at the second European Convention, where the citizen-participants ironed out final issues and produced a report that was presented to the European Parliament (it can be found at www.meetingmindseurope.org). European Dana Alliance members attended the convention in Brussels and acted as national experts and resource guides throughout the process. After the report was released, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos and Ann Korologos, a Dana Foundation board member, were the hosts of a panel discussion at their residence. In September, the European Dana Alliance, the Science Museum, and the London School of Economics presented a “Meeting of Minds” symposium in London.
The European Dana Alliance also has supported the work of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) since it was founded in 1998. In 2005, FENS became a major Brain Awareness Week partner by using a Dana Foundation grant to provide Brain Awareness Week partners in Europe with support for their events. Twenty-seven organizations in 19 countries received funds for events, including sponsorship of nine Brain Awareness Week events in the Czech Republic and twelve events in Russia. In Romania, scientists presented a program called “Neuroscience, Music, and Talent: Brain Awareness Week in the Year of Mozart,” and in Croatia a series of public events on the neuroscience of mental health and illness was presented.
Every two years, the federation holds a FENS Forum, a neuroscience meeting that attracts from 4,500 to 5,500 scientists, by far the largest neuroscience meeting in Europe. During the 2006 meeting, European Dana Alliance members gave featured lectures, and Alliance staff ran the press office, producing press releases in English and German and assisting some five dozen reporters. Alliance members also recorded a series of interviews about the research they had presented at the forum, which are available on Web site www.edab.net. All European Dana Alliance publications, in five languages, are available on the site as well.
European Alliance members also brought their expertise to the second Euroscience Open Forum, held in July in Munich. One symposium, on the ethics of brain research, featured European Dana Alliance vice chairman Colin Blakemore and Stephen Minger, both of the United Kingdom, and members Helmut Kettenmann, of Germany, and Roland Pochet, of Belgium. More than 2,100 people from 58 countries participated in the meetings and the forum for open dialogue, debate, and discussion on science and technology in society.