Dr. Merzenich Returns to Public Television
(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) — The science of brain plasticity is the subject of special documentary program for public television entitled “Brain Secrets with Dr. Michael Merzenich,” which will begin airing nationwide next week. Dr. Merzenich is the co-founder of Posit Science, which makes the BrainHQ brain exercise and assessment apps.
The program will delve into Dr. Merzenich’s lifelong work in unlocking the secrets of a healthy and highly functioning brain. The program was developed as special programming for public television’s fundraising drives, and donors will receive a copy of Dr. Merzenich book Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, as well as an annual subscription to BrainHQ, and a DVD library of five prior “brain fitness” specials featuring Dr. Merzenich.
Posit Science and Dr. Merzenich began working with public television more than ten years ago. At that time, their first such special, “The Brain Fitness Program,” became the most successful fundraiser in PBS history.
“We are honored by the opportunity to support public television,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “We share a mission of providing everyone with access to tools that can improve the mind and enrich human experience. While I grew up with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, these days I’m thankful that my entire family is nourished by programming that includes Masterpiece, Sherlock, Washington Week, the Great British Baking Show and, of course, Nova.”
Hosted by Maria Shriver, the “Brain Secrets” program delves into the latest discoveries about improving brain function — through interviews with Dr. Merzenich and other noted experts, including Dr. Arthur Toga at USC, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz at UCLA, Dr. David Bennnett at Rush, Dr. Judy Pa at USC, Dr. Rachael Seidler at the University of Florida, Dr. Jerri Edwards at USF, Dr. Emily Rogalski at Northwestern, and science journalist Sharon Begley at STAT.
Dr. Merzenich has dedicated his career to the study of brain plasticity – the ability of the brain to change chemically, physically, and functionally based on sensory and other inputs. Thirty years ago, scientists believed that brain plasticity ended with childhood, and that the adult brain was hard-wired and destined to wear out as you age.
Dr. Merzenich is credited with the seminal experiments that resulted in the discovery that plasticity is lifelong and present in nearly every part of the brain – from the cellular to the major systems level. Based on the discovery that what you do changes the brain, Dr. Merzenich turned his attention to how plasticity could be harnessed to improve the human condition.
He became the first to apply plasticity to solve a practical problem, through his co-invention of the cochlear implant — which engaged the brain’s plasticity with new machine-made electrical inputs from sound waves, in order to restore hearing to hundreds of thousands of people.
Dr. Merzenich then pioneered how computers might be used to measure brain function, deliver the right stimuli, and drive the brain in a positive direction.
That ongoing work resulted in the creation of the brain exercises and assessments found in BrainHQ—shown to deliver benefits in more than 140 peer-reviewed journal articles. Across varied populations, those exercises have driven gains in standard measures of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, memory), in standard measures of quality of life (e.g., mood, confidence, health-related quality of life), and in real-world activities (e.g, balance, driving, maintaining independent living).
For his body of work, Dr. Merzenich has been honored by each of the US National Academies (Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering), and has been made a Kavli Laureate in Neuroscience, which is often described as the highest honor in his field.
Dr. Merzenich brought together hundreds of university-based scientists to help design, test, refine and validate the exercises and assessment in BrainHQ, and, on a daily basis, oversees ongoing science and research efforts – including more than 200 studies now in progress – at Posit Science.
While best known among researchers for his admonitions to do “more, faster,” his advice to everyone else is to be mindful of the power and opportunity of lifelong plasticity.
“Your brain – every brain – is a work in progress,” Dr. Merzenich notably observed. “It is ‘plastic.’ From the day we are born until the day we die. It continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, as a function of how we use it.”