Silhouette of virtual human

Every sixty-six seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in this country.

This was the jarring statistic a speaker shared with attendees at West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute Inaugural Summit held in Morgantown, WV this past May.

A JAN colleague and I sat in a captive audience filled with other employees from WVU, the WVU medical community, local health practitioners, research scientists, patients, and their family members. Individuals took turns on stage speaking about various topics surrounding brain health and the research taking place at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI).

RNI is striving to improve lives by finding new ways to assist in treating Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, and addictions, and by “unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.” Currently, they are conducting clinical trials and collecting data in those areas by working with patients, athletes, and members of the military.

A session I found particularly interesting was entitled “Patients Breaking Barriers.” Among the presenters were Judi and Mark Polak who spoke about Judi’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. They shared with the audience their experiences with the disease and their willingness to participate in a clinical trial at RNI.

In this trial, Dr. Ali Rezai and his team used a targeted ultrasound technique when working with Judi and successfully completed the first procedure in the world that opened the blood-brain barrier located in the hippocampus. This procedure allowed the release of plaque that builds up in the brain and contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. In the future, the hope is that this procedure will create a mechanism to force medications directly into the blood stream that currently cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier on their own. This process might allow new ways of attempting to treat Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions such as cancer moving forward.

On the second day of the summit, we had the opportunity to tour the RNI facility. When entering the building it was hard to miss a large, intricate mural painted on the center wall. We discovered during the tour that the mural was of an enlarged brain cell. For a building that is promoting brain health, I thought it was a nice extra touch.

The facility is equipped with a wide range of stations to assist with treatment and research. A gym has different areas with exercises to measure human performance and strength. Virtual reality and the use of video games help with simulating responses from the brain as well as providing therapies for movement, etc. Devices assist while performing certain tasks to measure range of motion and weight distribution.

Of the many areas we explored that day, one of my favorite stations was the sensory deprivation tanks. For anyone who has watched the show Stranger Things on Netflix, the float tanks at RNI are not for supernatural purposes, but instead used for research on recovery post-concussion. The tanks help to reduce as much stimulation as possible while floating as a way for the brain to rest and heal.

I look forward to seeing how RNI grows and following the research there. I have no doubt that they will continue to make groundbreaking strides toward improving brain health and overall wellbeing. 
At JAN, we field numerous accommodation inquiries related to cognitive/neurological issues. Learning more about the medical aspects of these conditions provides us with a better understanding of its impacts in the workplace.