NEW ORLEANS -- It's the world's largest resource on brain science. There are 36,000 researchers, patent-technology companies, along with Nobel Prize winners in New Orleans, talking about the latest behavior findings and the treatment of injured brains.
Everything from discoveries on Alzheimer's, depression and over-eating, to memory, speech, and creativity, is on the agenda.
A big topic at the Society for Neuroscience Convention is the relationship of the brain to obesity. Research is being presented on how school children who exercised for just one school year, had different brain activity that could help their academic performance.
Another study suggests that some brains are more attracted to smells and signs related to sweet and high-fat junk food, like the smell of fresh-baked brownies or a blinking donut sign, making it harder to fight biology.
A top U.S. brain researcher is studying how drugs and food activate the same reward and pleasure areas of the brain.
"It makes biological sense because drugs are hijacking systems that were developed by nature in order to guarantee that behaviors important for survival are maintained," said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
People with low signals from a brain chemical, dopamine, are at higher risk to overeat or use drugs. And Dr. Volkow is a couple of years away from vaccines that could help people with heroin and cocaine addiction, which she says is a disease of the brain.
"So when they vaccinate these animals, these animals don't take heroin. When they have been previously made addicted to heroin, they will not relapse and they will not condition," Dr. Volkow explained. She said human research is around the corner.
Local neurobiologist are also presenting findings from the lab, like the discovery of the earliest changes in a protein that leads to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and eye diseases.
Dr. Nicolas Bazan adds that this is why lowering animal fat and raising fish oil in the diet is anti-aging and can protect the brain.
"The healthy diet, I believe, is the basis for successful aging. And this is our concern because unsuccessful aging is what leads to dementia, macular degeneration in the eye, in the retina," said Dr. Bazan, the director of the LSUHSC Neuroscience Center of Excellence.
Dr. Bazan said this basic science could lead to ways to detect brain degenerative diseases in the early stages when they are more easily treated, or even prevent conditions such as Alzheimer's.
His research has lead to finding a protective molecule that is produced when there are mutations and damage on the cellular level. LSUHSC is working with Johns Hopkins and The Mayo Clinic on macular degeneration.
Another local scientist presenting a poster at the convention is working on the "cocktail party effect."
"So I am interested in a noisy environment, like here in the convention center, or at a party, you hear all these different sounds and we have sort them so we can assign them to their source and then make sense of what they are saying," said Dr. Hamilton Farris of the LSUHSC Neuroscience Center of Excellence.
Stuttering is caused by a condition in the brain and one neuroscientist from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), found that by using a special collar that stimulated the skin, he could help people who stutter.
Brain biologists are also presenting research on how hormone replacement for women after menopause can protect the brain from Alzheimer's and the amount of damage from a stroke.
The LSU Neuroscience Center in New Orleans recently got grants totaling $6.2 million from the NIH and the ENT foundation. The funds will be used to tackle diseases that affect the brain.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of more than 42,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. More information about the brain can be found at BrainFacts.org, a public information initiative of The Kavli Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and SfN.
Editor's Note: Hamilton E. Farris, Ph.D. is the brother of Medical Reporter Meg Farris. He has published in Science and Nature Communications.