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NARRATOR: The National Institutes of Health
is the nation's medical research agency.
Its scientists make important discoveries
that improve health and save lives.
Many researchers at the NIH focus on basic research
that increases our understanding of health and disease.
The basic science that we do here at the NIH
will help in tackling human diseases --
major human diseases
such as cancer, cardiovascular disease,
such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
NARRATOR: To answer basic questions
such as how cells communicate with each other
or how our organs and tissues form,
researchers often use animal models,
such as fruit flies, roundworms, zebrafish, and frogs.
Many people feel we have little in common with these organisms,
but at the cellular and molecular level,
human beings have much in common with all forms of life.
Also, these model organisms are ideal for laboratory work
because they are inexpensive, easy to maintain,
and have properties that make them ideal
to study certain aspects of biology.
Dr. Mark Stopfer, a researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
in Bethesda, Maryland,
uses locusts -- grasshoppers -- to study neuroscience.
The locust is actually a good animal to use
to study certain questions in neuroscience.
Even though the insect looks very different from us,
its nervous system in many ways is very similar to ours.
The nerve cells communicate with each other
in pretty much the same way.
They use the same sort of electrical and chemical signals
to communicate with each other,
and they're connected in pretty much the same way.
Compared to our brains, they have relatively few nerve cells,
and so it's relatively easy for us to get in there
and figure out what each cell is contributing
to the processing of information.
For certain questions, locusts really give us the most value
for the research dollar.
They're not expensive to raise.
We can do experiments on locusts that, at the moment,
can't be done in any other animal,
in order to answer certain kinds of questions.
And we need the answers to those questions
if we want to understand how the brain functions.
NARRATOR: In his quest to better understand the brain,
Dr. Stopfer focuses on one of the brain's many functions --
controlling the sense of smell.
He's already learned some lessons from the locusts.
STOPFER: It turns out that there's really one best way
to process the sense of smell, and wherever you look,
across the animal kingdom,
you see the same types of organizations.
And so it's very surprising -- it certainly surprised me --
but the sense of smell in the insect works very much the way
the sense of smell works in us.
If we can understand
how the sense of smell works in the brain,
that will give us clues to how the brain is processing
all kinds of complicated forms of information.
And one thing we've learned by studying the sense of smell
is that groups of nerve cells
will suddenly start to fire together
in a process called synchrony.
They become synchronized.
And that's how the brain normally works
when it's processing the sense of smell.
NARRATOR: Basic research discoveries
often have implications for a wide range of fields,
including those that may seem
unrelated to the original research.
In this case, Dr. Stopfer's observations
about nerve synchrony
might inform research into medical conditions
as diverse as dyslexia and epilepsy.
STOPFER: So, how's the experiment going?
STOPFER: Synchrony can go bad in the brain.
That's called epilepsy, when there's too much synchrony.
So synchrony has to be controlled.
It has to occur within limits.
If we can understand
how the brain works under normal situations,
it'll help us understand how to prevent
abnormal situations from occurring.
NARRATOR: Most of today's
successful drug and medical devices
were discovered as a result of basic research such as that
conducted by Dr. Stopfer and other scientists at the NIH.
As these scientists pursue basic questions about how life works,
they are paving the way for future advances
in understanding, diagnosing, treating, or even preventing
a wide range of medical conditions.
STRATAKIS: By trying to uncover the fundamental truth
on how everything works,
you try to uncover how the human body works.
You take information from basic elements
to how cells function, to how whole tissues function,
to how an organism functions.
And then you try to integrate this information
to find out how the human body functions.
The unique concentration of intellect, resources,
and the system that links basic sciences
to translational applications --
this is what NIH is all about.