Visit to the M.I.N.D. Institute, at U. Cal. Davis,
Where Innovative Interventions and Cutting-Edge Research
Institute at U. Cal. Davis conducts cutting
edge brain research with this overriding goal: to understand
and help the learning disabled.
Recently featured on 60 Minutes for its ground-breaking
early diagnosis and treatment of autism, the M.I.N.D. Institute
is also a leader in research and therapies for those with
Fragile X, Chromosome 22q11.2 deletion and many other learning
disabilities. As 60 Minutes put it, “researchers
at the M.I.N.D. Institute . . . believe, if they can catch
it early, they can change the way a child’s brain
We at Sarah’s Place have been talking to researchers
at the M.I.N.D. Institute about what they might do with
our support to help those who have trouble processing visual/spatial
information and numbers—people with what we call
GPS [link to what is GPS] or Nonverbal Learning Disorder
or any of the other set of disorders that affect the visual/spatial/numeric
cognitive domain. After talking for months, it was time
to pay them a visit.
In mid-March, Susan Koniak, President of Sarah=s Place,
and Tom Ross, Secretary, spent two days at the M.I.N.D.
Institute. Much of that time was spent visiting with Dr.
Tony Simon, Director of the Cognitive
and Brain Imaging Laboratory.
Dr. Simon gave Susan and Tom a detailed presentation on
his research and latest finding replete with hot-off-the-imaging-machine
pictures and hot-out-of-the-genetic-lab representations
of subgenetic anomalies.
Sarah's Place has an ambitious research project planned,
and the M.I.N.D. Institute is a place we have identified
as capable and qualified to conduct some of the work we
have in mind. As Dr. Simon’s work is work we intend
to build upon, it was a natural first stop as we initiate
our GPS Project. CLICK HERE to
learn more about our GPS PROJECT and Dr. Simon’s
visual/spatial research at the M.I.N.D. Institute.
The M.I.N.D. Institute folks also wanted to learn from
us. They put Susan’s brain through its paces, having
her complete experiments designed to assess visual/spatial
processing. They took vials and vials of blood and a genetic
pedigree to try and identify a genetic cause for Susan’s
cognitive impairments. Dr. Randi Hagerman, one of this
nation’s leading experts on Fragile X, gave Susan
a neurological exam and interviewed Susan to get a medical
and cognitive history.
Next, the M.I.N.D. researchers put Susan in their high
tech MRI machines, to capture functional, structural and
connectivity information on Susan’s brain. And what
they have already found from that is quite astounding and
may well challenge some of the conventional wisdom on visual/spatial
deficits, namely the idea prominent in the NLD literature
that visual/spatial/numeric problems are RIGHT brain-centered
problems. The pictures of Susan’s brain show much
more significant brain matter deficits on the LEFT side.
As amazing given Susan’s achievements, the pictures
show a brain that is quite “damaged.” The M.I.N.D.
Institute folks said they would be showing Susan’s
pictures to parents for the rest of their careers as proof
that even the most damaged-looking brains may be capable
of great things. CLICK
HERE for a look at these astounding
pictures and easy to follow instructions on how to read
them. (For comparison, you can also view Functional
MRI scans of Susan's brain taken in 2005)
Most important, Dr. Simon and his colleagues at the M.I.N,D.
Institute listened and took notes as Susan explained how
she managed to compensate for the significant cognitive
impairments that she has. Susan explained just how she
completed the various cognitive tests she was given by
the M.I.N.D. Institute team. We hope that this information
will prove helpful to them in treating others with cognitive
impairments in the visual/spatial/numeric domain.
The dedication of the people we met at M.I.N.D. was inspiring.
We thank all of them, particularly, Dr. Simon and Dr.
Hagerman, for their warmth, collaborative spirit and enormous
generosity. We look forward to many years of fruitful collaboration
with these dedicated professionals and the Institute that
they call home.