San Francisco – The science of brain plasticity — and its ability to keep brain’s functioning at high levels throughout life — is the subject of a new documentary program for public television, entitled “The Brain Revolution,” which will begin airing nationwide on November 28th. The program is the ninth public television documentary based on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Michael Merzenich, who is the co-founder of Posit Science, which makes the BrainHQ app for monitoring and improving cognitive abilities.
The program will delve into Dr. Merzenich’s lifelong study of how to achieve and maintain a healthy and high performing brain. This documentary was developed with funding from PBS as special programming for public television’s pledge drives, and generous donors will receive a copy of Dr. Merzenich’s 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 prior brain fitness specials.
Posit Science and Dr. Merzenich began working with public television 12 years ago. At that time, their first such special, “The Brain Fitness Program,” became the most successful fundraiser in public television 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 Ashleigh Banfield, the new documentary 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. Jerri Edwards at USF, and Dr. Richard Frackowiak at the University of Lausanne.
Dr. Merzenich is credited with the seminal experiments that showed the brain is “plastic” – capable of chemical, physical and functional change – throughout life. Prior to his work, scientists believed the brain was only plastic during the development stage of childhood and then was destined to wear out over time. His work showing the brain remains plastic overturned existing models about how the brain works and began a still unfolding revolution in our understanding of the brain.
Dr. Merzenich was also the first to harness plasticity for human benefit through his co-invention of the cochlear implant — which engaged the brain’s plasticity with new machine-made electrical inputs from sound waves — 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 in brain exercises, 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 200 published studies. Across varied populations, those exercises have driven gains in standard measures of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, memory, decision-making), 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, work, 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 assessments in BrainHQ, and, on a daily basis at Posit Science, he oversees ongoing science and research efforts – including more nearly 300 more studies now in progress.
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.”