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Taking the “molecular brakes” off learning

Welcome to Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that introduces readers to some of Stanford’s most innovative researchers. 

When Carla Shatz, PhD, was a child, her grandmother suffered a stroke.

"At the time, people really couldn't do anything for her and they didn't understand how to give her rehab," Shatz, a professor of biology and neurbiology, said in the video above. Shatz was sad and frustrated, but also curious: How does the brain change and recover, allowing for learning and growth?

"This research is something I've been working on for my entire career," she said.

But now she and her team are starting to glean some insights into how the brain operates that could prove helpful for stroke treatments. Children learn effortlessly, but in adulthood, "molecular brakes" stymie the brain's ability to create new connections, Shatz explained.

"If we could only take those brakes on learning off, we could restore learning to the amazing childlike state," Shatz said. She and her collaborators have several ideas, ones that have shown promise in helping mice recover from stroke:

The last few years we've actually been able to come back to this question of stroke and address it with the knowledge of molecular mechanisms and the concept that enhancing brain plasticity and understanding how it works could actually allow for better recovery from stroke.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Science is like an ongoing mystery novel, says Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz, Examining the potential of creating new synapses in old or damaged brains  and Drug helps old brains learn new tricks 

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