An always popular attraction during Brain School at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is a presentation about brain anatomy using scientific specimens delivered by Michael Fox, an associate professor and director of the Developmental and Translational Neurobiology Center at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

The human brain contains about 86 billion nerve cells, or neurons, most of them at work in the background of our conscious attention collecting and interpreting information.

But humans have not cornered the market on brainpower. Animals, such as rattlesnakes, electric fish, and a menagerie of others, have taught scientists a thing or two about how brains interpret the world. Along the way, this information has informed innovative new technologies, medicine, and engineering.

Now, experts with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC will share insights and extraordinary facts during the seventh annual Brain School, “Amazing Brains – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” at the research institute. The series of community lectures and hands-on activities are free and open to the public from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. starting on Monday, March 11, through Thursday, March 14, at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke.

Activity will begin on Monday with two 30-minute presentations each about “Amazing Critter Brains” from Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s executive vice president for health sciences and technology and the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Audra Van Wart, Virginia Tech’s assistant vice president for health sciences education and director of education and training at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Each day after that will feature a presentation from a research institute scientist, paired with a talk from a Carilion Clinic physician.

“We have presentations that touch on facts about amazing creatures, to talks that are informative about traumatic brain injury, aging, and dementia,” said Friedlander, who is also an elected member of the Dana Brain Alliance. “We think this is a great way to continue our conversation with Roanoke and New River Valley residents about the brain. Brain School gives community members the chance to learn about the brain, hear from scientists working on the leading edge of discovery at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and to hear from our physician colleagues at Carilion Clinic who are providing high quality care for patients with brain disorders.”

Brain School is held every March in Roanoke as part of Brain Awareness Week, which unites the efforts of organizations worldwide in a weeklong celebration of the brain. It is spearheaded internationally by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research, and by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in the Roanoke Innovation Corridor and the New River Valley region.

Each evening begins with a half-hour reception in the VTC Cafe at 5 p.m., followed by an hour of interactive lecture-style presentations suitable for all ages in Room M203. Space is limited and advance online registration is encouraged. Free parking is plentiful on-site at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke and the Carilion Clinic parking garage at 4 Riverside Circle.

2019 Brain School Schedule:

?     Monday, March 11: Amazing Critter Brains

Roanoke’s 2019 Brain School opens with an exploration of how brain anatomy and function varies to solve specific challenges among different animal species unique to their world, often giving them not only a different “view” of the world but also an advantage over other species (including us). Friedlander will present “How Different Brains Construct Different Views of the World: From Rattlesnakes to Electric Fish, to Owls to Kids.” Van Wart, who is also the co-director of the translational biology, medicine, and health graduate program at Virginia Tech, will present “Insights from Animal Brains that are Shaping our Future.”

?     Tuesday, March 12: Sleep and Circadian Rhythms

Establishing healthy sleep habits can improve overall brain function, including the ability to learn, create memories, concentrate, and respond to stimuli quickly. During the second Brain School session, Michael Fox, an associate professor and director of the Developmental and Translational Neurobiology Center at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and an associate professor of biological sciences in College of Science at Virginia Tech, will discuss circadian rhythms in his lecture: “What Frogs Have Taught Us About Our Rhythms and Blues.” In addition, Edmundo Rubio, chief of pulmonary and critical care at Carilion Clinic, will discuss the importance of good sleep hygiene during “Shedding some Light into Sleep Problems in Modern Times.”

?     Wednesday, March 13: Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. The effects of TBI can include impaired thinking, memory, movement, vision, hearing, personality changes, and depression, lasting from just a few days to a lifetime. In this lecture series, Pamela VandeVord, professor and interim chair of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, will present “Animal Farm: Influences of Animal Research on Advancing Treatment for Human Brain Injuries.” Following VandeVord, Melanie Prusakowski, associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Carilion Clinic, will discuss the implications of concussions during her talk, “Ringing the Bell on Getting Your Bell Rung.”

?     Thursday, March 14: Aging and Dementia

During the final evening of Brain School, Gregorio Valdez, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, who is also associated with Virginia Tech’s College of Science, will discuss some of his team’s research during his talk: “The Aging Brain: Targeting Synapses to Prevent Cognitive Decline.” Brian Unwin, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Carilion Clinic, will present “Normal Aging vs. Dementia: What’s Happening to Me?”

By Whitney Slightham, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute