ANNUAL ‘AVALANCHE’ ACTIVITY
31st Research Festival Celebrates Science, People Who Do It

NIH deputy director for intramural research
Dr. Michael Gottesman enjoys a poster session
with fellow presenter Dr. Kandice Tanner of the
National Cancer Institute.
NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman enjoys a poster session with fellow presenter Dr. Kandice Tanner of the National Cancer Institute.

The first talk in the first plenary session of this year’s NIH Research Festival provided a perfect metaphor for the annual event.

Discussing his discovery of “neuronal avalanches” that occur in brain activity, Dr. Dietmar Plenz noted that one of neuroscience’s loftiest goals is to understand the dynamics of these amazing onslaughts of activity—these downpours in the gray matter—how they are organized and how they can be quantified and measured.

“The complexity is incredibly high,” said Plenz, principal investigator in NIMH’s section on critical brain dynamics. “In order to understand neural dynamics, we have to reconstruct each element. We have to understand its connection statistics and we have to understand how activity propagates along those [brain cell] branches and that is truly a very complex challenge…We decided years ago that maybe we can’t reconstruct how each individual neuron fires, but maybe we can pick up how neurons who are neighbors fire together.”

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TEAM EFFORT
Undiagnosed Diseases Program Seeks to Solve Medical Mysteries

Amy Sterling, executive director of EyeWire
Dr. William Gahl

When patients can’t get a diagnosis, they turn to Dr. William Gahl, head of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) and clinical director at NHGRI.

“Our goal is to lend a hand to these individuals who don’t have a diagnosis to go on. A diagnosis is often a precursor to treatment,” said Gahl during an Aug. 3 lecture for summer students titled “The NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program and Network: Diagnosis and Discovery” in Lipsett Amphitheater.

Started in 2008, the program, he explained, “helps patients reach a diagnosis when they didn’t have a diagnosis” and “offers some insight to the biomedical research community into medicine, namely cell biology, biochemistry and physiology.”

Program applicants must submit medical records along with a letter from a referring doctor. Once an application is received, the UDP consults with medical specialists within NIH to determine whether it would be a good case to take on. The program accepts roughly 30 percent of applicants.

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