Every human is fortunate to have this organ inside our skull called the brain. It allows us to breathe, create art, develop new technology — and yet there’s much that is undiscovered about how these masses of neurons work. Why is everyone’s brain a different shape? When the brain starts to deteriorate, what’s really happening? And what is thought?
In this episode of Movers & Thinkers, we explore these provocative questions with three people who think about them often: Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist/biologist who has developed a method to count the number of neurons in the brain; Beverly Patnaik, a gerontologist who works with Alzheimer’s patients; and Karl Sillay, a neurosurgeon who specializes in deep brain stimulation.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel is a biologist-turned-neuroscientist-and-writer who figured out a way to turn brains into soup (human brains included) to count how numbers of brain neurons compare across different species. She is the author of
The Human Advantage (MIT Press), exploring how the invention of cooking allowed the human brain to attain the most cortical neurons — even though it is not the largest brain around. Suzana spoke about that on the TEDGlobal stage, and she later presented at TEDxNashville. She teaches at Vanderbilt University.
Beverly Patnaik is a gerontologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field of aging issues. Recently, her focus has been on studying and teaching about Alzheimer’s and other dementias. She is constantly amazed at the complexity of the brain and how little is known about the cause and trajectory of these diseases. Beverly has served on the faculty at several institutions, including Duke University Medical School and Lipscomb University. She currently is director of staff training and community education for Abe’s Garden, an assisted living community for people with Alzheimer’s.
Karl Sillay is a neurosurgeon who specializes in deep brain stimulation, which involves implanting electrodes to regulate movement. He also has expertise in addressing brain tumors, spinal trauma and carpal tunnel syndrome. Before attending medical school in Georgia and completing his residency at Vanderbilt, he studied electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Karl currently practices with the Nashville Neurosurgery Associates.