SAN FRANCISCO – Dr. Michael Merzenich has been designated the 2017 recipient of The Charles L. Branch Brain Health Award for Unparalleled Breakthroughs in Brain Research. Dr. Merzenich is Professor Emeritus at University of California, San Francisco and is Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science.
The Branch Award is presented by the University of Texas Brain Health Center to a person who has made an extraordinary contribution to the field of neuroscience. The award will be presented at the Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium at University of California, Berkeley on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, where Dr. Merzenich will give a keynote address.
Dr. Merzenich plans to speak about the ramifications of the discovery of lifelong brain plasticity on how we think of the health of the brain as an organ, and about how applied plasticity technology now enables continuous monitoring and managing of brain health, with simple and affordable mobile apps and devices.
Three decades ago, Dr. Merzenich forever changed the way scientists look at the brain with his seminal experiments showing that the adult brain remains plastic – capable of changing chemically, physically and functionally, throughout life, based on sensory and other inputs. Previously, scientists believed that the brain was plastic only in childhood.
Dr. Merzenich realized that plasticity could be harnessed to create tools to benefit humanity. He first applied plasticity in the co-invention of the cochlear implant, which has restored hearing to hundreds of thousand of people living with deafness.
With the wide adoption of personal computers and, then, mobile devices, Dr. Merzenich focused on how to create online (and in app) assessments and exercises that continuously adapt and personalize to monitor and improve individual health and performance.
The exercises and assessments in the BrainHQ brain-training platform from Posit Science have been shown effective in a wide range of populations in more than 140 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Studies in healthy mature adults have shown gains in standard and real world measures of cognition (eg, brain speed, attention, memory and executive function); quality of life (mood, confidence, self-rated health, functional independence); and everyday activities (balance, movement, driving).
In January, academic researchers completed the first systematic review of commercially-available brain training programs targeting older adults. They found that most of the reviewed apps had zero studies to support their claims, but that BrainHQ was the only app with multiple high quality studies showing its effectiveness. The reviewers observed that studies of BrainHQ exercises and assessments “have fulfilled the gold standard for clinical trials,” and that clearly “some commercially available computerized brain training products can assist in promoting healthy brain aging.”
Last year, Dr. Merzenich was awarded the Kavli Prize, the highest honor in neuroscience. The prior year, he was awarded the Russ Prize, the highest honor in bio-engineering. He has been elected by his peers to both the National Academy of Sciences and to the National Academy of Medicine in the USA. He also is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters.
Dr. Merzenich frequently appears on television and in the press. He is perhaps best known to US audiences for a series of programs on brain fitness that appeared on public television and for the “Hack My Brain” mini-series on the Science Channel. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and hundreds of other news outlets.
Dr. Merzenich is the author of several books, including Soft-wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.