From groundbreaking neuroscience research to a first-of-its-kind exhibit, Palm Beach County is becoming a national hub for understanding the inner workings of the mind. Take a peek at the exciting developments happening in our own backyard.
Visitors to the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium will soon have a place to geek out over the brain’s intricacies. An entire wing of the museum—more than 2,300 square feet—will be devoted to a new permanent exhibit called “A Journey Through the Human Brain.” This educational and interactive attraction will feature cutting-edge elements such as a Human Brain Virtual Reality Theater, featuring 3D holograms of the brain, and a Brain Bar where visitors can test a mind-controlled helicopter. The Science Center enlisted FAU’s Brain Institute to help with development, and it expects to break ground on the expansion in early 2018. West Palm Beach (561-832-1988, sfsciencecenter.org)
Neurofeedback, a form of therapy that trains the brain to self-correct undesirable patterns of functioning, has hit the mainstream as research on neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire itself) mounts. Locally, Neurocore Brain Performance Centers offer neurofeedback training programs for adults and children dealing with the effects of ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, poor memory, migraines, trouble sleeping, and stress, and for athletes and professionals looking to reach peak performance.
The Neurocore program looks at the brain to address what’s causing certain symptoms, and then targets those symptoms through the brain’s natural ability to grow and change. Following an in-depth assessment, Neurocore’s social workers devise an individual holistic treatment plan. Over the course of 30 sessions, clients undergo neurofeedback and heart rate variability training in which they watch a movie with sensors placed on key areas of the head and a heart rate monitor worn around the waist. When the heart rate rises or the brain fires outside of the desired range, the movie begins to shrink and pauses. This encourages clients to use their full lung capacity and conditions the brain to operate within optimal states. Neurocore also educates clients on how to make better choices for their brain health, with a focus on diet, exercise, and sleep. Last fall, it launched a Memory Bootcamp program for those looking to stay sharp and be proactive against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While Neurocore is new to South Florida, it’s been providing neurofeedback therapy in Michigan for more than 10 years, and 80 percent of those who complete the process show a clinically relevant decrease in symptoms. Physiological changes appear to be sustained even two years after the program, making it a viable drug-free alternative to many brain-related therapies. Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton (561-223-6790, 561-210-9064, neurocorecenters.com)
Since its founding in 2016, Florida Atlantic University’s Brain Institute has been working to create a community based on first-rate neuroscience research, education, and biotechnology on the university’s MacAurther Campus in Jupiter. “People have said to me that [the Brain Institute] feels like the University of California San Diego 30 years ago,” says Dr. Daniel Flynn, vice president for research at FAU. “It has this vibe that it’s going places, and I think they’re exactly right.”
Renowned neuroscientist Dr. Randy Blakely came from Vanderbilt University and is leading the charge as the Brain Institute’s inaugural executive director. Utilizing his pull, Blakely has been recruiting top talent in addition to fostering beneficial interdisciplinary relationships within the university and with the Brain Institute’s notable neighbors, such as Jupiter Medical Center, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, and Scripps Research Institute. “In terms of neuroscience research, this community is one of the strongest in the country,” says Blakely. “People are investing here and capitalizing on it. We’re now able to recruit people who want to be with these scientists. It’s getting to be a magnet.”
With a focus on discovering new ways to treat brain disorders, the university’s labs have already made exciting findings related to autism, migraines, epilepsy, and the correspondence between the brain and the immune system. The Brain Institute also recently became one of the country’s seven Nikon Centers of Excellence with the purchase of a state-of-the-art Nikon 3D microscope. And, plans for a new 72,000-square-foot research facility on the Jupiter campus are on the horizon, which will further the Brain Institute’s ability to make an impact not just in South Florida but on a national level, too. Says Blakely, “It’s a commitment of mine to figure out how we can translate our discoveries at a very fundamental level into something that will help people.” (561-799-8100, ibrain.fau.edu)