University neuroscience researcher discusses brain imaging


The Daily Illini File Photo

The Beckman Institute sits north of the Engineering Quad in Champaign on Oct. 4, 2016. This year, the institute celebrates its 30th anniversary with events throughout the year.

By Jessica Berbey, Staff Writer

Beckman Institute senior scientist Ed Maclin led a lecture on neuroscience titled “A Random Walk through the Brain” on Friday at the McKinley Foundation Church.

He spoke about the importance of studying the brain and the impacts of research on treating mental illness.  

“We study the brain to understand mental illness and ourselves,” Maclin said.

“We need to understand ourselves as biological beings before interacting with each other,” Maclin said.

As a teen he stumbled across a few books that laid the foundation for his fascination in science and philosophy: Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy” and “Human Knowledge” as well as Alfred Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity.”

To Maclin, these books provided the beginning of conceptual thinking and the workings of the brain.

In the lecture, he touched on the ideas of having the ability to build on our pasts and the research he undertook to demonstrate it.

“The point of my lecture was to try to give a sense of the range of different projects that I worked on over the years,” Maclin said. “I also wanted to touch a little bit on how my career developed by choice as well as random opportunities that arose.”

His career in research was guided by both an interest in fundamental lessons of psychology and an interest in the application of technology as well as a fundamental understanding of problems.

He addressed the issue of the study of memory in professional psychology, stating that people lose track of the fact that even single cells have memory. Part of his research touches on levels of motivation and memory from single cell to cultural level.

“Self-understanding is key to healthy behavior,” Maclin said. “We won’t have matured until we understand ourselves as biological and psychological beings.”

At his first job, Maclin worked in an educational testing service, in which he and his colleagues researched cognitive style and psychological differentiation. They studied the technicalities behind dreaming and discovered that stages of sleep have effects on it.

“We don’t understand dreams,” he said. “They are appropriated to fit weird narratives that dreams have.”

Maclin correlated his findings to that of J.M.R. Delgado’s, “Physical Control of the Mind,” in which he said that the brain can be manipulated electrically in precise ways.

His role in that research involved localizing things in the brain. He discovered that depth increased with eccentricity, meaning the more eccentric, the deeper the stimulus in the back of the brain.

In 1982, six people in Santa Clara County in California were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease after having used MPPP (Desmethylprodine) contaminated with MPTP, a prodrug compound that produces permanent symptoms of Parkinson’s. This led to his next research experiments.

“These experiments made me reflect long and hard on the ethics of animal experimentation, even for medical research,” Maclin said.

After that, he studied electroconvulsive therapy at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

“It’s safe, and its side effects pale in comparison beside the effects of depression and are comparable to the effects of drug treatment,” he said.

His background in psychology extends from memory to attention to conflict and novelty as well as plasticity, aging, infants and preemies, neurovascular coupling, vascular health and emotional cognition.

He said that 50 percent of people have acute mental health and that 30 percent of jail mates have chronic or severe mental health issues.

“Knowledge and understanding are critical in addressing mental health issues,” said Maclin.

He also said that mental health issues have effects on a societal level and that the basis to relieving this issue starts with sympathy and understanding.

“Although we are making progress in understanding and alleviating mental health issues, I think the most important thing is that we all understand the nature of the problems, how common they are, and that we be aware of early symptoms,” he said.

He also said that people should be willing to seek professional help, especially since there is a lot of ignorance and prejudice about mental health issues.

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