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Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.

In 2014, Hamilton went to Liberia as part of the NPR team that covered Ebola. The team received a Peabody Award for its coverage.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Hamilton was part of NPR's team of science reporters and editors who went to Japan to cover the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Hamilton contributed several pieces to the Science Desk series "The Human Edge," which looked at what makes people the most versatile and powerful species on Earth. His reporting explained how humans use stories, how the highly evolved human brain is made from primitive parts, and what autism reveals about humans' social brains.

In 2009, Hamilton received the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for his piece on the neuroscience behind treating autism.

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He reported on states that have improved their Medicaid programs for the poor by enrolling beneficiaries in private HMOs.

From 1995-1997, Hamilton wrote on health and medical topics as a freelance writer, after having been a medical reporter for both The Commercial Appeal and Physician's Weekly.

Hamilton graduated with honors from Oberlin College in Ohio with a Bachelor of Arts in English. As a student, he was the editor of the Oberlin Review student newspaper. He earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, where he graduated with honors. During his time at Columbia, Hamilton was awarded the Baker Prize for magazine writing and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

Out-of-body experiences are all about rhythm, a team reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

In mice and one person, scientists were able to reproduce the altered state often associated with ketamine by inducing certain brain cells to fire together in a slow, rhythmic fashion.

Some mighty mice have overcome one of the major obstacles to interplanetary space flight: muscle and bone loss.

The mice got a drug that prevented the usual decreases in muscle and bone mass during a month on the International Space Station, a team reports in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A combination of two experimental drugs appears to slow the decline of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an illness often known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

A six-month study of 137 patients with a fast-progressing form of the disease found that those who got daily doses of a two-drug combination called AMX0035 scored several points higher on a standard measure of function, a team reports in the Sept. 3 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

COVID-19 forced Keriann Wilmot's son to trade his classroom for a computer. It was a tough transition for a 10-year-old with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"It was a different environment for him," Wilmot says. "He wasn't used to this kind of work from school coming in the format of an email in his Chromebook every single day."

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a variant of the anesthetic and party drug ketamine for suicidal patients with major depression.

The drug is a nasal spray called Spravato and it contains esketamine, a chemical cousin of ketamine.

For years, public health officials have been trying to dispel the myth that people who get a flu shot are more likely to get Alzheimer's disease.

They are not. And now there is evidence that vaccines that protect against the flu and pneumonia may actually protect people from Alzheimer's, too.

The same process that causes dew drops to form on a blade of grass appears to play an important role in Alzheimer's disease and other brain diseases.

Scientists are monitoring the virus that causes COVID-19 for genetic changes that could make a vaccine ineffective. But so far, they're not seeing any.

Three research institutions in Seattle have joined forces to study how Alzheimer's disease takes root in the brain.

The consortium will create a new research center at the Allen Institute for Brain Science to study tissue from brains donated by people who died with Alzheimer's.

A neurologist who encased his healthy right arm in a pink fiberglass cast for two weeks has shown how quickly the brain can change after an injury or illness.

Daily scans of Dr. Nico Dosenbach's brain showed that circuits controlling his immobilized arm disconnected from the body's motor system within 48 hours.

But during the same period, his brain began to produce new signals seemingly meant to keep those circuits intact and ready to reconnect quickly with the unused limb.

Mounting evidence suggests the coronavirus is more common and less deadly than it first appeared.

The evidence comes from tests that detect antibodies to the coronavirus in a person's blood rather than the virus itself.

The tests are finding large numbers of people in the U.S. who were infected but never became seriously ill. And when these mild infections are included in coronavirus statistics, the virus appears less dangerous.

COVID-19 has given ventilators an undeservedly bad reputation, says Dr. Colin Cooke, an associate professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Michigan.

"It's always disheartening to know that some people are out there saying if you end up on a ventilator it's a death sentence, which is not what we are experiencing — and I don't think it's what the data are showing," Cooke says.

Intensive care teams inside hospitals are rapidly altering the way they care for patients with COVID-19.

The changes range from new protective gear to new treatment protocols aimed at preventing deadly blood clots.

When COVID-19 patients began flooding emergency departments at New York hospitals in March, doctors saw some unusual cases of stroke.

"We had a young woman in her early 30s who came in with a profound stroke, the kind of stroke that leaves someone permanently paralyzed and possibly unable to survive," says Dr. J. Mocco, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the cerebrovascular center at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

On April 8, David Williams got a standing ovation as he was wheeled out of the John L. McClellan Memorial Veteran's Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.

Williams, 54, a Marine Corps veteran, had survived eight perilous days on a ventilator with COVID-19, and the hospital staff had lined up to give him a joyous, fist-bumping send-off.

Today, Williams is back at home with his wife, D'Anna. But a full recovery remains a distant prospect.

Most coronavirus patients who end up on ventilators go on to die, according to several small studies from the U.S., China and Europe.

And many of the patients who continue to live can't be taken off the mechanical breathing machines.

"It's very concerning to see how many patients who require ventilation do not make it out of the hospital," says Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care specialist at Washington University in St. Louis who has been caring for coronavirus patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The coronavirus appears to be much more lethal in some countries than in others.

In Italy, about 10% of people known to be infected have died. In Iran and Spain, the case fatality rate is higher than 7%. But in South Korea and the U.S. it's less than 1.5%. And in Germany, the figure is close to 0.5%.

So what gives?

The answer involves how many people are tested, the age of an infected population and factors such as whether the health care system is overwhelmed, scientists say.

Employees of the University of Washington's UW Medicine system can now get tested for coronavirus without leaving their cars.

The system's medical center in northwest Seattle has turned a hospital garage lot into a drive-through clinic that can test a person every five minutes. They typically get results within a day or so.

But the idea involves more than convenience. It's also about safety.

It's been a busy week at the virology lab run by UW Medicine, which includes the University of Washington's medical school and hospitals.

"We've already gone to three shifts," says Dr. Keith Jerome, a professor in the department of laboratory medicine who runs the lab. "People are going to be here basically all the time."

A song fuses words and music. Yet the human brain can instantly separate a song's lyrics from its melody.

And now scientists think they know how this happens.

A team led by researchers at McGill University reported in Science Thursday that song sounds are processed simultaneously by two separate brain areas – one in the left hemisphere and one in the right.

Scientists have taken a small step toward personalizing treatment for depression.

A study of more than 300 people with major depression found that brain wave patterns predicted which ones were most likely to respond to the drug sertraline (Zoloft), a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

If the approach pans out, it could offer better care for the millions of people in the U.S. with major depression.

Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain's information highways.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there's an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin.

Brain organoids, often called "minibrains," have changed the way scientists study human brain development and disorders like autism.

But the cells in these organoids differ from those in an actual brain in some important ways, scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

In early December at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, two anxious scientists were about to send 20 years of research into orbit.

"I feel like our heart and soul is going up in that thing," Dr. Emily Germain-Lee told her husband, Dr. Se-Jin Lee, as they waited arm-in-arm for a SpaceX rocket to launch.

Black and Hispanic Americans are especially vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. Yet they're often underrepresented in scientific studies of the disease.

So on a cool Sunday morning in Cleveland, two research associates from Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine have set up an information table at a fundraising walk organized by the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

"We are looking for families, minorities and people with early onset," Leah Cummings tells passersby who are waiting for the walk to begin.

A leukemia drug may have cleared another hurdle as a potential treatment for Parkinson's disease.

But critics say it's still not clear whether the drug, nilotinib (brand name Tasigna), is truly safe or effective for this use.

When Matthew Braun gets out of medical school, he'll be able to prescribe opioids.

A decade ago, he was addicted to them.

"The first time I ever used an opioid, I felt the most confident and powerful I'd ever felt," Braun says. "So I said, 'This is it. I want to do this the rest of my life.' "

Opioids took away his anxiety, his inhibitions, his depression. And they were easy to get.

"I just started breaking into houses," Braun says. "I found it amazing how trusting people were in leaving windows open and doors unlocked, and I found a lot of prescriptions."

When we hear a sentence, or a line of poetry, our brains automatically transform the stream of sound into a sequence of syllables.

But scientists haven't been sure exactly how the brain does this.

Now, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, think they've figured it out. The key is detecting a rapid increase in volume that occurs at the beginning of a vowel sound, they report Wednesday in Science Advances.

There's new evidence that girls start out with the same math abilities as boys.

A study of 104 children from ages 3 to 10 found similar patterns of brain activity in boys and girls as they engaged in basic math tasks, researchers reported Friday in the journal Science of Learning.

"They are indistinguishable," says Jessica Cantlon, an author of the study and professor of developmental neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University.

The brain waves generated during deep sleep appear to trigger a cleaning system in the brain that protects it against Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Electrical signals known as slow waves appear just before a pulse of fluid washes through the brain, presumably removing toxins associated with Alzheimer's, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science.

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