Dr. Craig van Horne, director of the Deep Brain Stimulator Center at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, spoke about his aspirations and hidden talents.

Watch: 5 questions with neurosurgeon Dr. Craig van Horne

Neurosurgeon Dr. Craig van Horne came to Kentucky from Boston to pursue an idea: Could peripheral nerve tissue implanted in the brain reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

Van Horne is the director of the Deep Brain Stimulator Center at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. He focuses his research on cellular and surgical therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a surgical procedure that uses electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain, effectively overriding the damaged nerve’s electrical impulses and reducing many of the symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. Van Horne is testing an experimental procedure called DBS Plus, which uses a patient’s own peripheral nerve tissue to prompt nerve regeneration and slow the disease process.

Van Horne says the teamwork and support at UK HealthCare – plus a healthy dose of Kentucky hospitality – fostered the atmosphere he needed to bring DBS Plus to fruition. (And having a lucky cap doesn’t hurt.)

Watch this episode of “Five Questions” to learn more about Dr. van Horne’s aspirations and secret talents.


Next steps:

The American Heart Association have promoted a simple, effective way to identify stroke. But the work of one UK resident could make it even better.

UK neurology resident proposes new way to identify stroke

Organizations like the American Heart Association have promoted the FAST concept to help people recognize the symptoms of stroke. FAST is a mnemonic that stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time. It’s used to help people understand the symptoms of a stroke and remind them to act quickly in seeking treatment because strokes can be debilitating or even deadly.

However, a study published in a recent issue of Stroke and authored by a resident physician at UK HealthCare might signal a change in how laypeople understand stroke symptoms and how first responders assess possible strokes.

Identifying areas for improvement

Dr. Sushanth Aroor, a fourth year neurology resident at UK, was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, co-director of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute and Aroor’s mentor, to explore how many strokes were initially missed because the FAST mnemonic didn’t apply to them.

“Dr. Goldstein’s idea to look at FAST, which was prompted by a conversation he had with a medical reporter, was something that made a lot of sense to me as I would very often see patients presenting with strokes that were FAST negative,” Aroor said.

Aroor began by identifying all patients admitted at UK in 2014 who were ultimately diagnosed with stroke and then determined how many of those patients initially presented with the FAST symptoms.

“Of the 736 people included in the study, slightly more than 14 percent did not have FAST symptoms but were ultimately diagnosed with a stroke,” he said.

Aroor then tried to quantify additional presenting symptoms for these non-FAST stroke patients and identified two prevalent symptoms: problems with balance (42 percent) and sudden onset of visual problems (40 percent). This led to a modification of the FAST mnemonic to BE-FAST (B for balance and E for eyes).

BE-FAST could change public policy

“We were able to demonstrate that by adding these two symptoms to the FAST mnemonic, the proportion of stroke patients not initially identified was reduced to 4.4 percent,” Aroor said. “Focusing our education efforts on BE-FAST instead of FAST could help reduce the number of missed strokes, therefore improving access time to treatments that could reduce or eliminate disability.”

Goldstein says that Aroor’s study could signal an enormous change in public policy.

“This is potentially a big deal,” Goldstein said. “As Aroor’s study is replicated and fine-tuned prospectively, his work could ultimately change how hospitals and first responders identify potential stroke victims, and change how organizations like the American Heart Association shape their public education campaigns.”

Gaining national notoriety

Other centers – many of whom were looking for hard data to back up their hunch about BE-FAST – are already taking note of Aroor’s study.

“We had been looking to switch to BE-FAST for about six months now but had no evidence-based practice to actually be able to implement the change until this study,” said Angie Russell, RN, BSN, stroke nurse program coordinator for the Lahey Medical Center in Massachusetts.

But Aroor’s study in Stroke provided the data Russell needed to revise Lahey’s stroke alert in-house policy to include BE-FAST. He is now working with her medical practice council to implement BE-FAST at Lahey’s five satellite facilities.

Aroor, characteristically modest, is quite pleased with how his study has been received.

“It’s nice to know that a lot of people are looking at this study and wanting to change how they teach the public how to identify strokes,” he said.

Check out the video of Aroor speaking about the promise of his work:


Next steps:

There is no cure for Parkinson’s, a debilitating disease that affects movement. But Dr. Craig van Horne's work at UK HealthCare is showing promise.

Listen: Dr. Craig van Horne discusses promising Parkinson’s treatment

Parkinson’s disease is a long-term, progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. There’s no cure for Parkinson’s, but UK neurosurgeon Dr. Craig van Horne‘s experimental treatment is showing promise in helping patients manage the symptoms of this disease.

Van Horne is the director of the Deep Brain Stimulator Center at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. He focuses his research on cellular and surgical therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a surgical procedure that uses electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain, effectively overriding the damaged nerve’s electrical impulses and reducing many of the symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. Dr. van Horne is testing an experimental procedure called DBS Plus, which uses a patient’s own peripheral nerve tissue to prompt nerve regeneration and slow the disease process.

Early data shows that DBS Plus has improved symptoms for some patients, and van Horne hopes it will become the new “standard of care” for treating Parkinson’s symptoms.

On this episode of the University of Kentucky’s podcast Behind the Blue, we sat down with Dr. van Horne to discuss DBS Plus, what this treatment may mean for Parkinson’s patients and how this research can impact other areas across the spectrum of healthcare.


Next steps:

Some patients who receive brain tumor radiation develop radiation necrosis, causing debilitating effects. But a new clinical trial could change that.

UK and Norton partner in first-ever clinical trial for radiation necrosis

Radiation saves countless lives, but in rare cases, it causes a debilitating complication. Around 3 to 5 percent of patients who receive radiation for brain tumors, or arteriovenous malformations (AVM), develop radiation necrosis.

Radiation necrosis causes headaches, nausea and vomiting, cognitive problems, and neural dysfunction. Although a variety of medications has been used to manage symptoms, there is no approved cure. But a joint clinical trial at Norton Brownsboro Hospital in Louisville and UK HealthCare could change that.

The first trial of its kind that treats the brain directly

Led by Dr. Shervin Dashti and Dr. Tom Yao from the Norton Neuroscience Institute and Dr. Justin Fraser at UK HealthCare, the trial is the first in the world to deliver a dose of a cancer drug directly to the brain. This allows a larger amount of the drug to reach the brain, making treatment more effective.

Dashti has seen the effects of radiation necrosis on patients who have already experienced the trauma of brain cancer or AVM. In addition to the symptoms caused by the condition itself, patients suffer from side effects of steroids used to manage it: insomnia, mood changes and weight gain.

“There was nothing that worked for treating it, and people were devastated,” he said. “What we’re doing now is something completely different, and I think it has a chance to really change the way we treat this.”

More than three years ago, Dashti developed this treatment when two young patients were in desperate need. Only 12 and 13, both girls had developed radiation necrosis and were experiencing severe side effects from steroids. They had disabling headaches, gained 50 to 60 pounds each, missed significant amounts of school or withdrew entirely. One patient experienced focal seizures in her arm and leg; the other patient was hospitalized for fluid overload.

With no other treatment available, Dashti and Yao spoke to the first patient and her family about trying a low dose of Avastin directly to the brain. They agreed, and within 12 hours of the procedure, her headaches were gone. Brain scans over several months showed continuous improvement, her arm and leg had strengthened so she could walk without help, and she returned to school.

Jade Cain, now 16, was the second patient. She was 11 when the AVM was diagnosed and 13 when she met Dashti. According to her mother, Desiree Fischer, 75 percent of her brain was swollen by that time, and she was so depressed she didn’t want to leave the house.

“We’d been doing three or four months of steroids, and she ended up on all other kinds of other medications, too, because she developed thrush. So that’s what led us to this procedure. She spent a week in the children’s hospital because she was in fluid overload. She couldn’t do any more steroids because that was going to kill her.”

Fortunately, the treatment worked just as well for Cain. Her headaches went away, she was off steroids within four weeks, and she returned to school.

She had a final angiogram of her brain in March 2016, and everything was normal.

“It the most amazing, complete response after one treatment, and the imaging response was unbelievable. It was a miraculous recovery for both of them,” Dashti said.

Partnering with UK HealthCare

The success of these two patients motivated Dashti to start a clinical trial. He asked Fraser, director of cerebrovascular surgery and surgical director of the comprehensive stroke center at UK’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, to join them.

“We’re in this position of facing an uncommon complication of a treatment that is becoming more commonly used, and we don’t have a great way to fix it,” Fraser said. “What’s special about our procedure is that patients get the drug once, directly to the brain, as opposed to a complete course of the drug that can cause serious side effects.”

The trial is supported by both institutions and has received expert project management support from the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

Showing gratitude and support

Cain’s family has raised more than $20,000 for the Children’s Hospital Foundation. At the decision of Cain and her mother, these funds are directed specifically to support research on radiation necrosis.

“From the steroid use, my child who weighed 105 pounds went up to 160 pounds in one month. Had this treatment already been approved, we could have omitted all that. She battled to get the weight off and to overcome poor body self-image,” Fischer said. “I wish it had been approved way before. And I hate that my child is the one who had to go through it, but I tell her, ‘You have no idea what you’ve done – you’ve paved the way so other people hopefully won’t have go through what you went through.’”

If you are interested in learning about participating in this study, please contact Elodie Elayi at elodie.elayi@uky.edu, or review the study information at ClinicalTrials.gov.


Next steps:

  • UK’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Research has recently made progress on a treatment for those with opioid use disorder. Learn more.
  • Clinical research helps develop the treatments and medications of the future. Learn how you can help.

Experimental treatment at UK targets Parkinson’s disease symptoms

About 14 years ago, Bill Crawford noticed a persistent twitching in one of his fingers that was interfering with his rehearsal time as the music pastor at Porter Memorial Church.

“It was driving me crazy,” the 57-year-old Lexingtonian said.

He’d noticed a few other things too, like weakness. He had mentioned it to his primary care physician, who ordered heart and lung function tests, but both were negative.

Finally, however, he was so weak that he could no longer ride his bike. “I just couldn’t seem to go,” he said.  So he made an appointment with a neurologist.

After a few minutes with Crawford, the neurologist asked him to return on Monday – and bring his wife, Lisa, with him.

On that dreadful day, the neurologist told Bill that he had Parkinson’s disease. At the time, Bill was just 44 years old.

“Obviously not what you want to hear,” he said. “But then I began to think of Michael J. Fox and all he had accomplished, and I thought I could do that too.”

Needing more than medicine

Eventually, though, the medicines that helped Bill control his Parkinson’s symptoms began to lose their effectiveness.

“There is no cure for Parkinson’s, and treatments we currently have at our disposal can only reduce symptoms,” explained Dr. John T. Slevin, a specialist at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, who began treating Crawford in 2006. “The disease progression inevitably overcomes the drugs’ capacity to alleviate the rigidity and tremor that are hallmarks of Parkinson’s.”

That meant that Crawford would go into what he called “full body charley horses” – sudden, painful involuntary spasms that left him paralyzed and lying on the floor for as much as 45 minutes.

“It was the pits,” Crawford said. Sometimes at the last minute he would be unable to conduct musical performances at church services, which was particularly disheartening. “I didn’t want to be a spectacle.”

It was then that Slevin suggested a treatment called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, and connected Crawford with UK HealthCare neurosurgeon Dr. Craig van Horne.

A new version of deep brain stimulation

Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure used to treat the problems associated with Parkinson’s disease. The procedure involves implanting electrodes into the brain that are connected to a small, pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest. These electrodes produce electrical signals that override the abnormal electrical impulses caused by the disease, which attacks and breaks down nerve cells in the brain.

The procedure isn’t suitable for everyone and requires thorough psychological testing and motion studies to ensure that a patient is ready for DBS.

“I wasn’t sure I would qualify,” Crawford said. “But I knew this was my last chance.”

Crawford considers it a blessing that he was, in fact, qualified to receive DBS. But then came an additional surprise: After further testing, van Horne told Crawford that he was qualified to participate in a study for a new version of DBS called “DBS Plus.”

The central nervous system – which comprises the brain and spinal cord – is unable to heal itself after injury or disease, van Horne said. However, peripheral nerves from the rest of the body are able to regenerate.

“Our study is designed to test whether taking a small part of peripheral nerve tissue and putting it in the brain would prompt healing in the areas of the central nervous system damaged by Parkinson’s,” he said.

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With DBS Plus, van Horne and his team (Greg Gerhard, PhD, and George Quintero, PhD) take a small piece of nerve tissue from the patient’s ankle and implant it in their brain.

Because the tissue is from a patient’s own body there are no concerns about rejection, and because the experimental treatment is applied during a procedure that was declared safe and effective by U.S. Food and Drug Administration almost two decades ago, DBS Plus is considered relatively safe with only minimal additional risk.

A marked improvement

Nonetheless, van Horne is cautious about the process of enrolling patients in the study.

“It’s more ethical, in my opinion, to wait until after a patient qualifies for the basic DBS before I tell them about my study,” he said. “I don’t want patients to elect to do DBS just because they want DBS Plus.”

And van Horne says he was thrilled that Crawford qualified for the study.

“When I met Bill for the first time, he was lying paralyzed on the floor in the treatment room,” van Horne recalled. “It was a startling and heart-breaking sight.”

Crawford received DBS Plus in August 2015. His family can’t get over the dramatic changes in his mobility.

“I’m climbing ladders now, I can plan our church’s worship time, I can lead the services, I can still lead others in worship,” he said.

The charley horses have gone away, and Crawford now takes just one or two pills a day, down from 12 before the surgery. A before-and-after video of Crawford walking the halls outside van Horne’s office is astonishing.

Promising results

To date, 34 patients have participated in the DBS Plus study with encouraging results.  Of the 17 patients that are 12 months out from their procedure, 65 percent of them have shown a clinically important improvement in motor performance as a result of the graft.

Van Horne is quick to point out that the study needs to be tested on a larger sample size at many other medical centers around the country before it can be deemed a viable treatment. Furthermore, he cautions, while 12-month results are promising, it’s important to evaluate effectiveness over a longer term. But assuming all goes as well as it has so far, DBS Plus shows promise as a means of slowing down the disease process.

Van Horne and his team garner no financial benefit from DBS Plus, which adds just a fraction of cost to the DBS surgery that is already covered by most insurance plans.

“Our payback is the gratification we receive in seeing our patients do well,” van Horne said.

Crawford understands that DBS Plus isn’t a cure for his Parkinson’s, but is delighted to have a little more time to enjoy life.

“‘Feeling the beat’ is critical to my work as a musician, and my Parkinson’s had begun to take that away from me,” he said. “I couldn’t even snap my fingers with the music anymore.”

But as he woke up from the surgery, Crawford said he instinctively began to tap his fingers like a metronome. Two members of the team, Julie Gurwell, the physician assistant responsible for programming the DBS equipment, and Ann Hanley, a Parkinson’s patient who personally accompanies patients through their surgeries, were sitting with him, and they asked him what he was doing.

“I was too emotional to explain but I managed to say ‘I can feel the beat.’ And they high-fived each other,” Crawford remembered.

“I just knew God had answered my prayers.”

Media inquiries: Laura Dawahare, UK Public Relations, laura.dawahare@uky.edu.


Next steps:

  • The promising results of Dr. van Horne’s DBS Plus treatment were recently highlighted in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Read the story here.
  • Learn more about the UK Movement Disorders Clinic, which provides specialized treatment for patients with a range of conditions and diseases including Parkinson’s, dystonia and Huntington’s disease.
In Berlin this past fall, a multidisciplinary team of UK scientists presented research on traumatic brain injuries in equine sports.

UK presents protocol on traumatic brain injuries in equine sports

Equestrian sports contribute to the highest percentage of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in sports, based on findings in the National Trauma Databank. Multiple concussions and head trauma can have long-term consequences, including acute injuries and neurodegenerative diseases.

First-ever international protocol

Health providers, researchers and other professionals from UK who work in the area of traumatic brain injury developed and presented the Saddle Up Safely Concussion Assessment Tool and Return to Riding Protocol for Concussions in Equine Sports at the 5th International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sports in Berlin, Germany, this past fall.

The conference was hosted and organized by Fédération Internationale de Football Association, International Ice Hockey Federation, International Olympic Committee, World Rugby, and Fédération Equestre Internationale and has evolved into the world’s most influential process for policy makers on concussions in sport.

UK’s multidisciplinary team

Representing UK at the conference were Dan Han, chief of UK Neuropsychology Service and director of Neurobehavioral Studies Division; Bill Gombeski, senior adviser at UK HealthCare;  Fernanda Camargo, associate extension professor at the UK College of Agriculture; and Carl Mattacola, professor in the Athletic Training Program at the UK College of Health Sciences. Also playing a major role in the development of the concussion tool but unable to attend the conference were Dr. Erika Erlandson, assistant professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the UK College of Medicine, and Jill Stowe, director of Equine Programs at the UK College of Agriculture.

The multidisciplinary effort represented Saddle Up Safety, the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute, the Sports Medicine Research Institute, the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, the Equine Program, and UK HealthCare.

The UK team identified key questions that needed to be addressed in advance, identified and reviewed relevant articles, and developed early recommendations which they presented to conference attendees.

A world leader in equestrian sports concussion protocol

“It was clear that in the area of equestrian sports concussion and return to riding protocol, that UK is one of the world leaders,” Gombeski said. “Individuals attending the conference from around the world discussed the work that the UK group shared and to learn more about using the concussion assessment tool and return to riding guidelines that members of the Saddle Up Safely program created.”

The Return to Riding Protocol for Equine Sport is the first of its kind for equine specific head injury. Presentations (5 in total) by the UK team members will be published in the May 2017 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The conference recommendations created this year will come out online in February.


Next steps:

Though there’s no cure for dementia, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of dementia

An Alzheimer’s disease or dementia diagnosis is devastating for everyone involved. Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease and recognizing it in its earliest stages, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Warning signs

Alzheimer’s and dementia usually affects people who are 65 or older, so if there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms.

  • Forgetting important information.
  • Lack of problem-solving skills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  • Using incorrect words.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Personality changes.

How Sanders-Brown can help

If you notice any of the symptoms above, consider making a memory evaluation appointment with the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. We’re a worldwide leader in Alzheimer’s and dementia research and patient care. In fact, we’re one of only 30 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the U.S. and have been funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 30 years.

Our experts are on the leading-edge of memory loss research, tapping into data from more than 800 volunteers – both healthy and cognitively impaired – to better understand how healthy brain aging occurs and why some people develop Alzheimer’s.

That research directly impacts patient care, allowing us to identify the disease earlier and provide therapies to our patients that can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Our comprehensive efforts to tackle this disease don’t end with the patient. We actively work with a patient’s family members and caregivers to help them understand how they can help their loved one.

“We often say Alzheimer’s is a family disease,” said Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of Sanders-Brown. “That’s why we’re here to provide outreach, education and support to help patients and their families get the help they need to lead active and engaged lives.”


Next steps:

UK chaplain returns to work with renewed spirit following cycling accident

Exactly five months ago today, Laura Babbage had a devastating accident while biking through the French Alps with her 22-year-old son Brian.

Babbage, a chaplain at UK HealthCare, suffered a traumatic brain injury during the accident, which required months of treatment and rehabilitation. With the help of her care team at UK HealthCare and the prayers of friends and family, Babbage has returned to her work more than six months ahead of doctors’ estimates.

Babbage’s accident happened in France, she was airlifted back to Lexington and was treated at UK HealthCare. She completed her inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

Babbage knows that many of her UK HealthCare family know her story, because she has heard of the many staff who prayed outside the door of her ICU bed and has delighted at the numerous people who’ve stopped her in the halls with a “welcome back!” smile or a hug.

“I’m overwhelmed by how much people rooted for me,” Babbage said. “There was an ocean of prayer entire churches I’d never heard of were praying for me. And I believe prayer, in all its forms, does matter.”

Read Babbage’s open letter of thanks to the UK doctors, nurses and staff who cared for her.

Using her experience for others

Since her return to chaplaincy about two weeks ago, Babbage has gone about her work with the grace and empathy that all who know her recognize: She is a patient and willing listener, she is trained to develop a relationship of trust without judgment and to add dimension to the skilled care provided by physicians and staff.

While Babbage acknowledges that, at least in the beginning, this ordeal was easiest on her – “I don’t remember a thing, but my family was sorely tested,” she said – she knows that this experience will help her do her job better.

“I am always aware of and sensitive to the desire for a visit from a chaplain as well as for prayer,” she said. “Chaplains are a listening presence for patients and families to help them begin to make sense of their situation. We are available for prayer if requested. Often we simply meet someone in the midst of their pain and suffering, aware of this special privilege.

“But now I have a deeper appreciation for families and their experience with their ill or injured family member since I’ve returned to work,” she explained. “Chaplains listen far more than we talk, allowing time and space for families to grasp the gravity of the moment. I have a heightened tenderness for family members now that I recognize what my own family experienced during my hospital stay. Like other chaplains, I will continue to learn.”

Returning to the patient’s bedside

Babbage and Joe Alverson, UK HealthCare’s director of pastoral care, were very careful to make sure she was prepared to meet and address patient and family needs.

“We wondered what would happen if I was needed to minister to a patient or family who’d experienced a trauma similar to mine,” Babbage said. “But we’ve been trained to eject ourselves from any situation if necessary – sometimes you’re not the right person for that patient, and sometimes they don’t want you there at all.  I felt I’d still be able to do that.”

Alverson remembers the shock and disbelief he felt when he learned that “one of our own” was in serious trouble.

“My first thought was for her – and my second thought immediately after that was for her family,” he said.  “As chaplains we see the sickest of the sick, and her condition was a huge worry for us.”

The pace of Babbage’s recovery was “beyond belief,” Alverson said.

“The first time I saw her was after she’d completed inpatient rehab at Cardinal Hill in September, and the first words out of her mouth were ‘When can I come back?'” he said. “I was excited for her, for me and for the hospital as well.”

Alverson knows that Babbage will make good use of her experience as she continues to care for others.

“We work in the midst of trauma and chaos every day, but to actually live that makes it more real,” he said. “I really look forward to seeing how her experience changes the trajectory of her work, but regardless of the exact path, I know it will be a good one.”

“We’re just thrilled to have her back.”

Media inquiries: Laura Dawahare, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, laura.dawahare.uky.edu


Next steps:

  • Learn more about Pastoral Care at UK HealthCare, where our chaplains are available to help patients, families and staff deal with spiritual and emotional challenges associated with medical events and crises.
  • The world-renowned doctors at UK Neurosurgery provides diagnosis and management of a wide range of conditions involving the brain, spine and nervous system. Learn more about the care we provide.
Chef Taria Camerino has "gastral synesthesia," meaning all of her senses are experienced as taste. She spoke about it at UK's Neurogastronomy Symposium.

2nd annual Neurogastronomy Symposium brings study of taste perception to UK HealthCare

More than 250 scientists, chefs, presenters and spectators gathered at UK HealthCare last weekend for the second-annual International Society of Neurogastronomy Symposium.

The term “neurogastronomy” was coined by Dr. Gordon Shepherd to describe a discipline of the biochemistry of food preparation, the molecular biology of the olfactory receptors, and the knowledge of odor images and the brain flavor system. The concept casts a wide net over several disciplines relevant to what we eat, why we like what we eat and how we eat. His life’s work was reflected in many of the topics covered at the symposium:

  • The evolution of food and flavor, from ancient times to the Middle Ages (when people considered food as medicine) to the rise of modern cuisine as an expression of vanity (rich, multi-course meals were a reflection of a person’s wealth and social status).
  • The complexities of flavor perception: humans have three receptors for vision (red, blue and green) and more than 1,000 receptors for odors.
  • New research into the anti-inflammatory properties of food (olive oil shares one of the same molecules as that found in ibuprofen, which might give insight into the effectiveness of the Mediterranean Diet).
  • The concept of food addiction and the potential role of stress reduction in decreasing the incidence of obesity.
  • An analysis of the debate whether food addiction is biological (like a drug addiction) or behavioral (like a gambling addiction).

But it was Taria Camerino who stole the show. Camerino, an acclaimed chef, has a condition known as synesthesia, which means she experiences all of her senses, even her emotions, as taste.

Symposium participants crowded the microphones to ask Camerino questions: “Do you taste feelings?” (yes – “Fear tastes like blood and metal.”) “What did the presidential election taste like?” (“Like bitter, but also like hope, plus something astringent… something chemical… I know! Hairspray! Wow… that’s really weird!”) And, perhaps the most poignant question: “Can you help me cook for my husband who had radiation? He can still smell, but he cannot taste, and he’s miserable.” (“Start having him smell things. Vanilla, shortbread, lavender. When he gets to a smell he likes, make something with that.”)

During breaks between presentations, attendees could explore one of nine stations that demonstrated how taste involves more than the tongue. One table offered three gelatin cubes – one black flavored with mango, one green flavored with strawberry, and one yellow flavored with fish – to emphasize how what we see on the plate sets expectations for what we’re about to taste.

For her station, Camerino made hundreds of “lollies” – lollipops are her signature confectionery – for participants to taste while listening to the first two minutes of the 1812 Overture. People came away from her station moved and amazed.

“I tasted bitter, and then sadness, and then something more herbal,” said one taster. “How did she get the lollipop’s flavor to swell and subside with the music?” marveled another.

The day culminated with a recap of the Neurogastronomy Challenge, where teams of chefs, neuroscientists and clinicians went head to head to prepare dishes for cancer patients Erika Radhakrishnan and Barry Warner.

“When you are on cancer treatment, your taste and smell are affected, and not in a good way,” said Radhakrishnan. “It’s encouraging to see that quality of life for cancer patients is no longer on the back burner.”

“I consider my taste loss collateral damage – and I’m OK with that in the grand scheme of things,” Warner said.

“But there are a lot of professionals in this kitchen looking for ways to make things better for us, and I really appreciate their enthusiasm.”


You can watch a playlist of the Neurogastronomy Symposium below. It includes an interview with Camerino, footage of her presentation and more.


Next steps:

Linda Van Eldik, director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, was awarded a translational research grant from the Alzheimer's Association.

Sanders-Brown awarded $1 million Alzheimer’s Association grant

Linda Van Eldik, director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA), was awarded a “Part the Cloud” translational research grant from the Alzheimer’s Association. This two-year, $997,738 grant will fund early clinical trials for a promising new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, Van Eldik’s team is exploring brain inflammation’s role in nerve cell damage as a first step in identifying opportunities to suppress detrimental inflammatory molecules.

“Brain inflammation is now recognized as an important driver of neurodegenerative disease progression, and we desperately need new selective anti-inflammatory drugs to be tested in humans,” said Van Eldik. “This new Part the Cloud funding will help us move this important research forward.”

“Part the Cloud” is part of the broader Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program, which has awarded more than $375 million to more than 2,400 projects around the world.

According to Alzheimer’s Association Executive Director DeeAnna Esslinger, more than five million Americans are currently living with this disease, and that number is projected to more than triple by 2050.

“The Part the Cloud initiative is an essential part of Alzheimer’s Association research funding because new, more effective Alzheimer’s therapies are desperately needed,” she said. “This new grant allows Dr. Van Eldik and her team to begin testing this therapy now instead of waiting on other funding sources, or not being able to do so at all.”


Next steps: