VTC Carilion Helping Transform VA From “Train State to Brain State”

Preparing for Brain Awareness Week: Michael J. Friedlander (fifth from left), executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, with scientists (from left) Deborah Kelly, Audra Van Wart, Michael Fox, Stephen LaConte, Stephanie DeLuca, and Greg Valdez.

The brain never finishes growing up. It begins to develop before birth and progresses at a ferocious pace through infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Even across a lifetime, the brain never stops changing.

Scientists will reveal more about what they have learned about the brain’s developmental journey when the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute opens its doors for its fifth annual Brain School during Brain Awareness Week from March 13-19.

“This is a fantastic and fun opportunity for our scientists and the public to have a conversation,” said Michael J.  Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “Right here in Roanoke, remarkable discoveries are being made that influence the worldview of neuroscience, and we want residents to learn more about what our students, fellows and faculty work on, and to share in their successes.”

Friedlander said Brain School organizers — including Audra Van Wart, an assistant professor and director of education and training at the institute, and Michael Fox, an associate professor and director of the institute’s Center for Developmental and Translational Neurobiology — are working to build a full slate of attractions, which will include presentations by Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists, national experts, and possible activities with Roanoke area restaurants.

Highlighting the scientific presentations will be a lecture by Greg J. Duncan, a distinguished professor from the University of California, Irvine, who will talk about “Early Childhood Education: What Works and What Doesn’t.”

Duncan will review his research, which shows children from low-income households are a year behind high-income children in math and reading achievement when they start kindergarten. These gaps change little over the course of their subsequent schooling.

He will summarize the available evidence regarding which expenditures on early childhood education programs constitute worthy social investments in the human capital of children.

Every March, Brain Awareness Week 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 Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in the Roanoke and New River Valley region.

Other Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute organizers are assistant professor Deborah Kelly, associate professor Stephen LaConte, research assistant professor Stephanie DeLuca, and assistant professor Gregorio Valdez.

“The campaign is aimed at increasing public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research,” said Friedlander, who is an elected member of the Dana Foundation and is also Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology.

“Although the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute has a wide range of research thrusts in addition to neuroscience, brain research is a vital and important part of its portfolio and it is why this area is becoming known for transforming Virginia from the train state to the brain state,” Friedlander said. “We hope to engage as many community members as possible and share the excitement of brain discoveries, making us all more aware of our brains and their tremendous potential and adaptability to multiple challenges.”

Additional Brain Awareness Week activities are being developed and will be announced.