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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.

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.

When Sepiedeh Keshavarzi was getting her medical degree in Tehran, she often read research papers by prominent scientists in the U.S.

"It was my dream at some point when I was much younger to do research in the States," she says.

Not anymore.

Brain scientists are offering a new reason to control blood sugar levels: It might help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"There's many reasons to get [blood sugar] under control," says David Holtzman, chairman of neurology at Washington University in St. Louis. "But this is certainly one."

Educators refer to teens like Alex as "twice exceptional."

"I have a large degree of skill in almost every subject of learning," says Alex, who is 16. "But I also have autistic spectrum disorder."

For Alex, this dual identity has meant both opportunity and frustration.

He has skipped two grades so far, and began taking college math courses last year, when he was still 15. But when he was younger, Alex's underdeveloped social skills caused him a lot of grief.

"I was constantly getting into fights and normally losing them," he says.

The link between vaping and severe lung problems is getting a lot of attention.

But scientists say they're also worried about vaping's effect on teenage brains.

"Unfortunately, the brain problems and challenges may be things that we see later on down the road," says Nii Addy, associate professor of psychiatry and cellular and molecular physiology at Yale School of Medicine.

Too much physical exertion appears to make the brain tired.

That's the conclusion of a study of triathletes published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers found that after several weeks of overtraining, athletes became more likely to choose immediate gratification over long-term rewards. At the same time, brain scans showed the athletes had decreased activity in an area of the brain involved in decision-making.

Researchers are beginning to understand why certain brain cancers are so hard to stop.

Three studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature found that these deadly tumors integrate themselves into the brain's electrical network and then hijack signals from healthy nerve cells to fuel their own growth.

The depression drug esketamine, marketed as Spravato, appears to offer quick relief to people who are actively considering suicide.

Esketamine, a chemical cousin of the anesthetic and party drug ketamine, reduced depression symptoms within hours in two large studies of suicidal patients, the drug's maker announced Monday.

By the time a fetus is 6 months old, it is producing electrical signals recognizable as brain waves.

And clusters of lab-grown human brain cells known as organoids seem to follow a similar schedule, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

In mice, scientists have used a variety of drugs to treat brain disorders including murine versions of Alzheimer's disease, depression and schizophrenia. But in people, these same treatments usually fail.

And now researchers are beginning to understand why.

A detailed comparison of the cell types in mouse and human brain tissue found subtle but important differences that could affect the response to many drugs, a team reports Wednesday in the journal Nature.

A close look at the brains of 40 U.S. Embassy workers in Cuba who developed mysterious symptoms has found no evidence of injury. The State Department has said the employees were hurt by some sort of attack.

Researchers are prescribing exercise as if it were a drug in a study that aims to see if it can prevent Alzheimer's disease.

"We are testing if exercise is medicine for people with a mild memory problem," says Laura Baker, principal investigator of the nationwide EXERT study and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

In a waiting room at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, a 74-year-old woman named Rubie is about to find out whether she has a gene that puts her at risk for Alzheimer's.

"I'm a little bit apprehensive about it, and I hope I don't have it," she says. "But if I do, I want to be able to plan for my future."

The gene is called APOE E4, and it's the most powerful known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's after age 65.

Alzheimer's disease begins altering the brain long before it affects memory and thinking.

So scientists are developing a range of tests to detect these changes in the brain, which include an increase in toxic proteins, inflammation and damage to the connections between brain cells.

What sounds like music to us may just be noise to a macaque monkey.

That's because a monkey's brain appears to lack critical circuits that are highly sensitive to a sound's pitch, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The finding suggests that humans may have developed brain areas that are sensitive to pitch and tone in order to process the sounds associated with speech and music.

Scientists are setting a new course in their quest to treat Alzheimer's disease.

The shift comes out of necessity. A series of expensive failures with experimental drugs aimed at a toxic protein called amyloid-beta have led to a change in approach.

Scientists have found a way to transform brain signals into spoken words and sentences.

The approach could someday help people who have lost the ability to speak or gesture, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

When you're thirsty, a swig of fresh water brings instant relief. But gulp down some salty sea water and you'll still feel parched.

That's because your brain is trying to keep the concentration of salt in your body within a very narrow range, says Zachary Knight, an associate professor in physiology at the University of California, San Francisco and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The claim was extraordinary.

More than 20 U.S. diplomats in Cuba had "suffered significant injuries" in a series of attacks that seemed to target the brain. Or at least that's what State Department officials told reporters during a briefing in September 2017.

A couple of weeks later, President Trump went even further. "I do believe Cuba is responsible," he said during a Rose Garden news conference.

Editor's note, March 6, 9:30 a.m.: This story was updated to include information about the price of Spravato.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug that can relieve depression in hours instead of weeks.

Esketamine, a chemical cousin of the anesthetic and party drug ketamine, represents the first truly new kind of depression drug since Prozac hit the market in 1988.

Primary care doctors are really good at checking seniors' cholesterol levels and blood pressure but often fail to use tests that could detect dementia.

Fewer than half of primary care doctors surveyed say they routinely test patients 65 and older for problems with memory and thinking, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association.

Women tend to have more youthful brains than their male counterparts — at least when it comes to metabolism.

While age reduces the metabolism of all brains, women retain a higher rate throughout the lifespan, researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For comedian Lewis Black, anger is a job.

Black is famous for his rants about stuff he finds annoying or unfair or just plain infuriating.

Onstage, he often looks ready for a fight. He leans forward. He shouts. He stabs the air with an index finger, or a middle finger.

To a scientist, Black looks a lot like a belligerent dog, or an irritated gerbil.

On January 28, 1969, an oil well off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., experienced a blowout. The result was an oil spill that at the time ranked as the largest in U.S. waters.

The disaster, which made headlines across the nation, helped create the modern environmental movement. It also led to restrictions on offshore drilling — restrictions the Trump Administration is trying to loosen.

The events that led to the spill began one morning on Platform A, a rig located about six miles from the coast and operated at the time by Union Oil.

Scientists have found a biological clue that could help explain why African-Americans appear to be more vulnerable than white Americans to Alzheimer's disease.

A study of 1,255 people, both black and white, found that cerebrospinal fluid from African-Americans tended to contain lower levels of a substance associated with Alzheimer's, researchers report Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Yet these low levels did not seem to protect black participants from the disease.

Just in time for the winter solstice, scientists may have figured out how short days can lead to dark moods.

Two recent studies suggest the culprit is a brain circuit that connects special light-sensing cells in the retina with brain areas that affect whether you are happy or sad.

When these cells detect shorter days, they appear to use this pathway to send signals to the brain that can make a person feel glum or even depressed.

There's new evidence that mild pulses of electricity can relieve depression — if they reach the right target in the brain.

A study of 25 people with epilepsy found that those who had symptoms of depression felt better almost immediately when doctors electrically stimulated an area of the brain just above the eyes, a team reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists may have caught a glimpse of what sadness looks like in the brain.

A study of 21 people found that for most, feeling down was associated with greater communication between brain areas involved in emotion and memory, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Thursday in the journal Cell.

A substance that gives pot its kick appears to reduce the brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease – at least in mice.

In mice that had been genetically tweaked to develop symptoms like those of Alzheimer's, animals that received a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol for six weeks performed as well as healthy mice on a memory test, scientists reported Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

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