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Fifth Annual Brain Week runs March 15-20, 2021

Since its inception in 2016, Brain Week Rhode Island (BWRI) has brought together thousands of parents, children, scientists, educators, artists and community members to discover the mysteries and wonder of the brain.

This year, in light of Covid-19, Brain Week has created an exciting all-virtual free series of online programs that will continue the tradition of celebrating the wealth of neuroscience in the Ocean State.

All events take place from March 15-20 during Brain Awareness Week, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. The community is invited to hop on to “bite sized” lunchtime lectures, storytelling, and theater.

For kids, BWRI has created BRAINY Adventures—lesson plans with fun DYI brain experiments for teachers in school or parents at home. Visit here to see a video about Brain Week.

Brain Week is being co-chaired by Dr. Oluwarotimi (Timi) Folorunso, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Translational Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s psychiatric teaching hospital, and the director of inaugural McLean’s Mental Health Research Summer Program for promising young Black, Indigenous, and underrepresented People of Color (BIPOC) undergraduate students.

Victoria Heimer-McGinn, BWRI Founder and Co-Chair said, “We are thrilled to have Timi join us, especially as a role model in our education outreach program.” She continued, “He has incomparable experience, having led various science outreach activities for kids and undergraduate students while studying for his doctorate at University of Texas Medical Branch.” Timi added, “BWRI gives me an opportunity to introduce neuroscience to kids at an early age, which was an experience that was not available to or afforded to me. I love kids, love studying the brain, and want to impart my excitement and enthusiasm to as many children as possible—especially in Rhode Island’s more underserved communities.”

On March 15, 16 &17, from 12 noon-1pm, Pablo Rodríguez, MD, Associate Professor Emeritus of OBGYN at Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and members of Brain Week’s Executive Committee will host a lunchtime blend of science and storytelling. All events will accommodate Q&A from attendees.

Additionally, BWRI commissioned four local playwrights, paired with a scientist, to write 10-minute plays based on the brain.  The productions will be presented over Zoom on Tuesday, March 17. On Friday, March 18, the week will conclude with a panel on mindfulness practices during times of COVID. McGinn said, “We think it’s important, during these difficult times, to support local artists and promote collaborations across disciplines. We are thrilled to bring new artistic works by some of Rhode Island’s most talented theater professionals to Brain Week this year.”

Programs in Brief (See brainweekri.org/events)

Brain Talk: A Lunchtime Series, March 15, 16, 17

Participants in Brain Week represent some of the most esteemed research and educational institutions in Rhode Island.  Programs cover subjects such the brain’s functions in memory, sleep and migraine; the impact on the brain of mindfulness and exercise; neuroeconomics and mental illness; and the effect of racism and Covid-19. Specifically, speakers for the lunchtime events include: Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, on mindfulness, whose TED Talk has had more than 16.5million views; Mary A. Carskadon, PhD is an authority on adolescent sleep and circadian rhythms; John Robinson, PhD, on the benefits of exercise to the brain; Oriel FeldmanHall, PhD, on neuroeconomics—the social, emotional and cognitive factors that shape and ultimately guide our moral choices and decision-making. Storytellers include: Kyri Allison, on the stigma around borderline personality disorder;; and Alexes Elizabeth, who lives with migraine disease and is a patient advocate and comedian. See brainweekri.org/brain-talk/

BrainyActs: A Night of (Virtual) Theater, March 17

This innovative program will premier four live(?), 10-minute plays to Brain Week’s 2021 roster of events.  Directed by Tyler Dobrowsky, a multi-talented freelance theater director, producer and educator, the plays are inspired by brain science, and based on conversations with local neuroscientists. The topics of these plays explore themes such as consciousness, memory, and epilepsy. The playwrights are Dave Rabinow, Darcie Dennigan, and Gina Rodríguez-Drix & Marcel Mascaro. BrainyActs will be followed by a live Q&A with playwrights and the researchers who helped inspire their work.  See https://brainweekri.org/brainy-acts/

Mindfulness in Practice, March 19

This concluding event, organized by physicians and scientists from the CfNN (VA Medical Center) and Butler Hospital, will explore how mindfulness-based treatments are emerging as additional intervention options for individuals struggling with various psychiatric disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and addiction. In addition, with the day-to-day stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for a way to cope with anxiety and grief, and mindful practices may be particularly relevant for this challenging time. The panel will explore the underlying brain mechanisms supporting mindfulness, current research practices, as well as existing and potential future clinical applications of mindfulness techniques

See https://brainweekri.org/mindfulness-in-practice/

BRAINY Adventures, Ongoing

Education programs provide a BRAINY Adventure Package that includes presentations and videos on Google Slides. Each lesson involves an experiment, with background information, protocols, and discussion topics.  Seven teams of neuroscience and psychology students, both post-graduate and graduate, from URI, Brown, Providence College, Bryant and Roger Williams are helping to implement the programs. Rhode Island schools will have the opportunity to meet the scientists through Zoom after completing the experiments. For more information see https://brainweekri.org/brainy-adventures/.

Brain Week RI is a communal effort, organized and spearheaded by Cure Alliance for Mental Illness and presented this year by the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program. The Glia-level sponsor this year is the George and Ann Ryan Institute at University of Rhode Island and the Synapse-level sponsors include the Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology (CfNN) at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center; and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute at Lifespan. Several other institutions and universities provided sponsorship at the Axon and Dendrite levels.

About Cure Alliance for Mental Illness: Cure Alliance for Mental Illness is a social activist network for mental illness research. Our mission is to unite the energies of patients, families, clinicians, scientists, and mental illness organizations to:

  • Educate the public and policymakers about mental illnesses as brain disorders
  • Advocate for scientific research to understand mental illnesses
  • Work toward safe, effective treatments for those suffering from mental illnesses curealliance.org

About the Violence and Injury Prevention Program at Rhode Island Department of Health is a program that provides communities and policy-makers with information that includes data and research, resources they need to develop life-saving policies, implement evidence-based programs to reduce injuries and death caused by child abuse and neglect, intimate partner/sexual violence, suicide, also injuries attributed from motor vehicle crashes and sports. health.ri.gov/programs/

About the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience: The George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary research center focused on discovering and developing disease-modifying therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The Ryan Institute’s approach includes research into what triggers the atrophy and death of neural cells and systems in neurodegenerative disorders, converting scientific discoveries into therapies, and shepherding promising new therapies into clinical trials. ryaninstitute.uri.edu

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