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PBS Premiere Features NINDS's Grafman

Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS science series hosted by renowned actor Alan Alda, will air "Changing Your Mind" on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. This 1-hour episode will look at the plasticity of the human brain and include an interview with Dr. Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section, NINDS.

Dr. Jordan Grafman (l) of NINDS meets with actor Alan Alda.

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to re-wire itself. In the interview, Grafman discusses his work with a remarkable young woman, Michelle Mack, who was born with half a brain. Her left hemisphere was almost completely destroyed by a stroke she suffered in her mother's womb. However, her verbal and object-recognition capabilities — which are normally seated in the missing left brain — are hardly compromised. According to Grafman, Mack's right hemisphere controls tasks handled by the left brain in other people. But this compensation comes with a price; she struggles with visual-spatial tasks, which are normally processed in the right brain. It's as if the two abilities, linguistic and visual-spatial, had to "duke it out" for space in her brain — and language won. Mack's extraordinary case provides powerful evidence that the brain is a flexible — and competitive — organ, always prioritizing and re-organizing. Today Mack's skills, and some unusual abilities, surprise even Grafman.

Michelle Mack (second from l) with her parents and Alda.

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