A Look at WHY Underrepresented Populations Leave Neuroscience Research

In “Factors that Influence Career Choice Among Different Populations of Neuroscience Trainees,” published recently in eNeuro, NINDS program director Lauren Ullrich, Ph.D., and fellow authors bring to light many issues about why women and individuals from underrepresented populations leave the neuroscience field at rates higher than men and Whites. They are less often first authors of papers, publish in journals with lower impact factors, and less often submit grants through the “special,” more honorific mechanisms NIH has to offer.

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Announcing the New NINDS Five-year Strategic Plan

Two years in the making, we have posted our NINDS 2021-2026 Strategic Plan. This Strategic Plan differs from its predecessors in several ways. First, it began with a mandate that my colleagues at NINDS dream big. Big for patients and families struggling everyday with neurological disorders. Big for scientists around the world trying to understand the mysteries of the brain, spinal cord, muscles, and peripheral nerves. Big for the clinical trialists, the pharmaceutical industry, the science and technology policy makers, the device inventors. Big for health, quality of life, safety, rigor, and public access.

Second, it started within NINDS, with 100 taskforce and steering committee members and nearly 100 intramural faculty, staff, and trainees; then our outside stakeholders, with 140 discussion panel members; and finally more than 120 responses from individuals and organizations to requests for information from the public. Developing the plan empowered our biomedical workforce, engaged patients and advocacy groups, reached out to industry, academia, and our colleagues in government.

Third, it includes both focused approaches to our science and our training programs, and broad, overarching strategies that are part of the fabric of who we are and who we hope to be. That hope is to be the very best possible version of NINDS  and to serve as a model and impetus for the entire biomedical community to become their best, too.

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Stroke Awareness Month: May 2021

As I look out the window of the room in my home in which I have been working for over a year, it is hard to believe how green the trees have become!  But Spring is truly here, and if it’s May, it must be Stroke Awareness Month.  Over the past decade, NIH and its government, nonprofit, and hospital partners and scientists and health care providers around the country have worked to make people everywhere aware of the risks and dangers of stroke; help people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol; design and test better drugs and devices to treat heart rhythm disturbances and prevent the blood clots they cause; and implement methods for dissolving or pulling out clots in blood vessels in the brain.  Accordingly, age-adjusted stroke rates and death rates from stroke have decreased over the past decade in both men and women and for all races and ethnicities.  But lest we think we don’t have to worry about stroke anymore, we still have lots of work to do!

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NINDS Recognizes Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

This month is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month and, even as a child neurologist, I find myself thinking about how much we have learned and how much we have yet to learn about this common neurodegenerative condition.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder that primarily affects people over the age of 65. However, an estimated four percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed with “early onset Parkinson’s disease,” meaning that they were diagnosed before age 50. Clinically, Parkinson’s disease is characterized by slowness of movement (bradykinesia), rhythmic shaking of the limbs and head (tremor), inflexibility of the limbs (rigidity), and loss of the balancing mechanism (postural control).

In addition to these classic “motor” or movement-related symptoms, people with Parkinson’s also experience a range of symptoms affecting daily activities, including fatigue, pain, changes in mood and thinking, difficulties sleeping, issues with eating and swallowing, and bladder and bowel problems. Under the microscope, the brains of patients who had Parkinson’s disease all show abnormal clumps of proteins, called Lewy bodies, and the loss of nerve cells that make the chemical dopamine.

What has become clear is that Parkinson’s represents a complex spectrum with shared characteristics, including a classic trio of motor symptoms and similar end-term brain changes, but also with a range of physical manifestations such that the experience of each person with Parkinson’s is unique.

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Help Contribute to the NINDS Strategic Plan!

Almost two years ago, I assumed the task of leading a new strategic planning effort to help the institute determine what directions to take over the next 5 years.  A daunting task to be sure.  But, after much dedication and deep thought, we have developed a draft strategic plan and are now seeking to gather your thoughts on the plan and how we should go about implementing it.

Our draft Strategic Plan is posted for public comment, and I encourage you to submit comments on it , including high priority issues we should focus on first.  Please submit your comments online via the webform at https://www.ninds.nih.gov/NOT-NS-21-021.  We set an original submission deadline of March 15th (Thanks to all of you who have already sent in your comments!) and have already begun considering submitted suggestions for incorporation into the final document.  But we will keep the submission interface open and will monitor it indefinitely.  Our Strategic Plan is, after all, a living, evolving document!

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