10 Brains to Watch in Brain Health

By Liel Leibovitz, Ph.D.

April’s a big month for brain health, the burgeoning field that includes everything from improving cognitive performance to curing Alzheimer’s. In Boston, the American Academy of Neurology will convene more than 10,000 neurologists from around the world to discuss the latest research in the field. And Ohio State University will hold its second annual Brain Health Summit in Columbus, gathering experts from different disciplines to discuss this generation’s moonshot, the quest to unlock the mysteries of the human brain. As I’ll soon be moderating a panel on the brain and opioid addiction at the OSU summit — featuring best-selling author J.D. Vance — I look forward to hearing talks by ten of the summit’s participants, some of the top brains behind brain health science:

  • Dr. Moshe Bar: The director of the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar Ilan University, Bar’s research focuses on how the brain uses prior knowledge to make predictions, make decisions, and improve cognition, questions that are relevant to pretty much all of us.
  • Dan Buettner: A National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author, Buettner has discovered the Blue Zones, the fives places in the world where people live longest and are the healthiest and happiest.
  • Dr. Naomi Eisenberger: An associate professor of psychology at UCLA, Dr. Eisenberger explores the ways in which social relationships influence mental and physical health and how emotional pain from rejection or loss, say, relies on the very same regions in our brain that process actual, physical pain.
  • Dr. Ellen Frank: Dr. Frank is a co-founder and the Chief Scientific Officer of HealthRhythms, a start-up focused on mobile technology to measure, evaluate, and improve behavioral health, improving the lives of patients, families, and physicians alike.
  • Dr. Richard Friedman: As a professor at Cornell University, he studies the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. As a columnist for The New York Times, he is one of our most celebrated science writers, helping explain a wide array of mental diseases and conditions in a clear and evocative language.
  • Dr. Josh Hagen: Working at the Air Force Research Labs, Dr. Hagen leads the aptly named STRONG — Signature Tracking for Optimized Nutrition and Training — a team dedicated to improving performance monitoring and augmentation to elite athletes and soldiers.
  • Dr. Amir Kalali: Heading the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at QuintilesIMS, a Fortune500 company and the world’s largest provider of biopharmaceutical development services. For twenty years, he’s led numerous successful clinical trials that have given patients suffering from neurological conditions new treatments and new hope.
  • Sarah Lenz Lock: The Executive Director of the AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health, Lenz Lock works to coordinate efforts involving scientists, doctors, and policy makers to get sure that millions of aging Americans get accurate and helpful information about cognitive function and brain health.
  • Dr. Clay Marsh: The Vice President of West Virginia University, he is currently leading a seminal population health effort focused on the state’s opioid addiction epidemic, an undertaking closely watched in other parts of the country afflictedby the same crisis.
  • Dr. Ali Rezai: Last year, OSU’s star neurosurgeon became the first person in history to reanimate the limbs of a quadriplegic man with a groundbreaking new brain implant. The brain health summit’s host, his current research efforts cover everything from curing migraines with a cell phone-operated dental implant to combating the biological underpinnings of depression and addiction.

As scientists from across the country and around the world get together this month to tackle the difficult and demanding challenges of our brain, let’s take a moment and learn more about their work and about brain health, the science of working to keep our bodies and our minds in top shape.

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Liel Leibovitz is a writer living in New York. He holds a Ph.D. in communications from Columbia University and is a former faculty member of NYU.