100 years of attitude

I’ve just noticed an excellent article in the Times about Rita Levi-Montalcini, the Nobel prizewinning neurologist who’s still working at 100.

Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel in 1986 for her discovery of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps control when and where brain cells grow.

Fiercely independent, she’s escaped fascist regimes, anti-semitism and the bombing of Turin, where she continued her work by setting up a laboratory in a country cottage.

Do the workings of the brain still hold mysteries? “No, it is much less mysterious. We have the most amazing scientific and technological advances. We have been able to see how the brain does work. And now discoveries are being made by by anatomists and physiologists or experts in behavioural science, physicists and mathematicians, computer experts, biochemists, and molecular scientists. The barriers are breaking down between disciplines. At 100 years of age I am still making discoveries about the factor that I myself discovered more than half a century ago.”

Despite her neurobiological nous, cognitive neuroscience is obviously not her strong point as she does spout some nonsense about brain hemispheres in a few places though, like “The important thing is to have lived with serenity using the rational left-hand side of one’s brain, and not the right side, the instinctive side, which leads to misery and tragedy.”

Or the backside, which leads to… oh forget it.

Link to the Times on Rita Levi-Montalcini.

3 Comments

  1. Posted May 6, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    At her age she’s forgiven. The fact that she is coherent and thinking is encouraging.

  2. Mark(p.s.)
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Where is the nonsense?
    a brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke. It affected the left side of her brain, she experienced the world in a new way because of the stroke.
    “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey”

  3. Peter Reiner
    Posted May 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    You say, “Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel in 1986 for her discovery of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps control when and where brain cells grow.”
    Perhaps this is a minor point, but the truth is that Levi-Montalcini discovered nerve growth factor, not BDNF. At the time, the entire concept of such molecules as growth factors was new, and that was why the discovery merited awarding a nobel prize. BDNF was discovered in 1990 (4 years after Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel) by cloning a new growth factor. While the discovery has turned out to be important, it was hardly a conceptual breakthrough.


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