This is a column from Dana's print publication, Brain in the News.
March, Brain Awareness Week (BAW) will celebrate its 22nd
anniversary. BAW was the brain-child of David Mahoney, the chair of the Dana
Foundation at that time. David, who had once been one of the nation’s top
advertising and public relations executives, was the ultimate marketer. When
BAW was in its planning stages, the idea of a “Brain Research Day” was proposed.
At the time there were several “days” devoted to specific subjects, many in the
cancer area. I was in on the early discussions, and David spent all of 30
seconds considering the alternatives before saying, “Let’s make it a week.” And
so Brain Awareness Week was born.
BAW was focused on Washington, D.C., and Congress, recognizing that the major
source of funding for brain research in the United States was the federal government,
through the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. In the first few
years, the major BAW event was a gathering in Washington attended by movers and
shakers who determined federal financing. The attendees were from the government,
academia, and professional and advocacy groups. This was a modest effort
involving about 160 organizations.
BAW has grown remarkably, and is now under the direction of Kathleen Roina. The
week has evolved into a global education initiative that has included the
participation of 5,600 partners in 120 countries. In 2016, 1,775 BAW events
were held in 43 countries and 40 states, reaching more than 190,000 people.
bring their unique perspectives and messages about the brain: An interest in a
specific disease or disorder; a concern for early childhood development; concentration
on successful aging; a commitment to maximizing human potential; or a concern
for the future of medical research funding. As a collaborative effort, BAW
offers its partners the opportunity to focus national and international
attention on these specific messages within the broader context of our common
interest in the brain and brain research.
outside groups aided the Dana Foundation in sustaining and growing BAW. In
1996, then-president of the Society for Neuroscience Bruce McEwen pledged that
organization’s commitment to the campaign. SfN has been a major partner ever
since; a BAW event has been presented at the SfN annual meeting for almost two
decades. The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies has also become a
very dedicated partner.
One of the
most successful outcomes of BAW and other outreach activities of Dana has been
to get scientists and clinical investigators, particularly younger participants,
out of their labs and clinics to interact with the outside world. This interaction
has been particularly successful in reaching students of all ages. A few years
ago, I was a judge reviewing brain research activities of high school students
in New York. I was astounded at the expertise of these kids and was tempted to
recruit several, on the spot, to a neurology residency at Hopkins.
first started BAW, it was one of the few programs that touted brain research.
Now there are many, including those aimed at specific problems, such as
cognitive changes with age (AARP), vascular problems in the brain (American
Heart Association), or autism (Simons Foundation), among others.
for BAW? There will always be a need for
neuroscientists, both clinical and basic, to keep the general public aware of
what they are doing and why. While support for brain research waxes and wanes, BAW
remains a credible source of information. In recent years, the campaign’s web
and social media presence has only expanded BAW’s reach. I encourage you to get
involved, either as a BAW partner or an event attendee. To learn more, visit dana.org/baw, where you’ll find a
schedule of events and partner resources (such as tips for event-planning and
free materials). Brain Awareness Week—a celebration that I’ve been privileged
to be a part of—is from March 13-19.