Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Transitions

Quixit, Inc., the company I started in 2005 to distribute scientifically based casual online games that focus on specific cognitive skills, such as attention and memory, was acquired yesterday by SBT, a French firm based in Lyon, France. As of today, I will no longer be affiliated with the new company, now called HappyNeuron, Inc. In my roles as CEO of neuroscience technology companies, Quixit and previously Scientific Learning Corporation, I have enjoyed getting to know the scientists, researchers, journalists, publishers, and many others so keenly interested in trying to figure out how to add to our knowledge base about healthy lifestyle choices, the impact of nutrition and exercise on brain health, and the major effects of mental stimulation in keeping our minds healthy and agile. So much is known yet so little has made its way to most people. And there is so much work that needs to be done. I look forward to the now-frequent research reports coming out almost on a weekly basis from respected research institutions on these topics and applaud those in the trenches working to prevent and treat diseases of the mind.

I continue to be curious about and interested in brain fitness and how we all can lower the probabilities of age-related cognitive decline, especially Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia. I've seen first-hand how devastating the effects can be on the patient, family, and friends. The good news? We can all hope and expect that we will see great strides in our lifetimes in what we know about these horrific diseases of the mind.

Change typically forces new learning and is an excellent way to keep our brains in shape. So change is in the air for me and I welcome this opportunity to move into something new and different.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Evening: Conflict, Regret, Resolution, Peace

I have recently gone through losing my mother first to dementia and then to death. I of course felt that my experiences were unique. And probably universal, although knowing how exactly is a little difficult. The movie, Evening, proves that lots of other people have probably lived through similar situations. The fights between siblings (just too much tension builds up). The last gasp of incredible focus and energy that comes from saying good-bye. The memories that both warm and invade almost every moment. The tears. The regrets. The guilt. The love. The amazing ability of the mind to worry about mistakes and to grasp redemption and resolution and come to peace.

I was lucky enough to see an early preview of Evening at the beautiful, restored art deco theater, the Smith Rafael Center in San Rafael, California, also the home of the California Film Institute, sponsor of the Mill Valley Film Festival. The cast of this film is truly amazing: Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter, Natasha Richardson, Meryl Street and her daughter, Mamie Gummer; Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Eileen Atkins, Patrick Wilson, and Hugh Dancy. Just to see all these incredible actors in one film was a wonderful experience.

The director, Lajos Koltai (formerly a cinematographer of films such as Being Julia) and one of the writers, Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel, The Hours, were on hand for Q&A after the film. The film was inspired by Susan Minot's beloved novel.

Asked if the film is a "chick flick," both Cunningham and Koltai said, emphatically, "No!" I agree. It explores universal conflicts that come up between parents and children, between siblings, and between memories, yearnings, and a desire to feel that we've lived every moment to its fullest and made the best decisions that we could have made, that we loved well and lived well.

A lovely film. It will be coming out in theaters on June 29. Try to see it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In Search of Memory

In Search of Memory, the Emergence of a New Science of Mind, by Eric R. Kandel, is not what I had in mind for summer reading. I was looking for a mystery when I wandered over to the nonfiction area of my little neighborhood bookstore. Kandel's book looked interesting, was highly portable in paperback, and a possible choice for my upcoming plane trip. I knew Eric Kandel was at Columbia and was a Nobel Prize winner for his work on the mind but that was about it.

I read a few pages, overcame my belief that this one could likely be dry as dust and bought it. It turns out that Mr. Kandel is quite a writer in addition to being a great scientist. He pulled me in immediately with his descriptions of his early life in Vienna and I never got out again. From there, I was whisked into his love affair with medicine and science and the mind, not to mention real people, like his wife and children. He intertwined his love of art, music, fine wines, and good friends with his fascination with the behavior of the aplysia's cells and the biology of memory. He also managed to sneak in a chronology of scientific research on cognition and the mind from its early beginnings until today and in an understandable, extremely interesting way.

He included a poem, written by his young daughter, titled (of course) "The Aplisa." "An aplisa is like a squishy snail. In rain in snow in sleet in hail. When it is angry, it shoots out ink. The ink is purple, not pink. An aplisa cannot live onland. It doesn't have feet so it can't stand. It has a very funny mouth, And in winter it goes to the south." Kandel was clearly obsessed and his family knew it. The rest of us on the planet should be thankful for his compulsive curiosity about what was happening in the cells of the aplysia. We are also fortunate that a number of other creative scientists were beginning to think about the mind differently than in the past at around the same time so they could build on each others' work. They were beginning to realize that so many of the mind's functions are controlled by the biology of the cell. Amazing that understanding the chemical reactions in the cells of one of earth's smallest organisms has enabled gigantic progress in our understanding of what we like to think is one of the most complicated organs on earth, the human brain.

For a magnificent review, please take a look at the Neurophilosophy blog. Better yet, read the book. A great story. A wonderful life.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sicko: We Must Change US Health Care Now

Last night I was invited to the first Bay Area screening of Sicko, Michael Moore's new film about health care. Funny, tragic, entertaining, thoughtful, and energizing; see it! The audience cheered and clapped in a standing ovation for almost 10-15 minutes, similar to the reception the film received at the Cannes Film Festival.

Mr. Moore was there for a Q&A. "What can we do to change things? How long will it take us?" were recurring questions in different guises from the audience. In other words, why do so many other countries in the world look after their citizens' health through universal health care but in the US, health care is seen as just another business with the P&L always top of mind, resulting in horrendous treatment for many of our poorer citizens, in debt and bankruptcy for those unable to meet the financial obligations caused by a disease or accident, or in many people avoiding proper care and treatment, resulting in even higher costs for the whole system and for taxpayers.

His answer, "First, we can prevent many health problems by eating fruits and vegetables and moving our bodies." He pointed out that he is now walking 30 minutes a day and has made small changes in his diet that have enabled him to lose 30 pounds in the last three months. And he's right, prevention is the best way to deal with the cost of getting sick in our country and lifestyle changes can result in lower cholesterol, lower blood pressures, and healthy blood sugar levels--all keys to preventing major chronic and debilitating diseases.

Secondly, "follow the money." He encouraged the audience to find out which of our elected officials--Senators, Representatives, the President--are getting financial support (and how much) from the health care industry. We really need to know who has a vested interest in not changing our system, resulting in exclusion of people from adequate care who can't pay and escalating drug and patient care prices. The culprits are pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and for-profit HMOs and hospital chains. But even more important and unethical are our elected officials who take big bucks in campaign support from these entities. Of course, they are then beholden to the health care industry and little to no change is the result. We voters and citizens need to demand that this unethical practice stop, immediately.

Given the demographics of our country and the inevitable ills of the aging Boomer generation, the US must solve this health care problem fast. Everyone needs adequate access to good health care. Because we care. Because it the right thing to do. Because it is the only way to keep our country strong.

As Michael Moore pointed out, "We are a wealthy nation. We can find billions when we need to kill people (as in Iraq). Why not use our money to help people live?"