Marian Diamond, the extraordinary scientist who studied the brain of Albert Einstein and left us excellent news about our own brain


Marian diamond with a brain in handImage copyright
Photos of UC Berkeley / Elena Zhukova

The day Marian Diamond was due to be born, his father took his five brothers to the hospital to say goodbye to his mother because he had been informed that the doctor could only save one of them.

"A large uterine tumor accompanied me during my growth process in the womb of my mother, who was 42 years old," said the American scientist.

"How wrong I was (the doctor)! My mother lived at age 75 and I'm 80, "she wrote in a 2007 essay on her life and career.

Diamond was born to study the brain as few people have done and to revolutionize the way we understand it.

In addition to his pioneering laboratory research, his legacy as a university professor has inspired generations of doctors, researchers and scientists.

The lady in the flower box

She walked down the aisles of the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), elegantly dressed and with a colorful box of flowers printed to hold elegant hats.

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Courtesy: Diamond Family

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Diamond when he was 1 year old with his mother in 1927. "My mother told us that her mother told her:" You must have a family and a career because once your children grow up, you will need something to do it, "he told the BBC. World Richard Diamond.

"When they see a lady with a hat box, they really do not know what she's carrying (inside)," she said playfully to a group of students in 2010.

And the teacher was carrying the organ she fell in love with when she was just a teenager.

"Nothing can compare"he said in the documentary"My love affair with the brain"(" My love story with the brain ").

"That's what you really are, if you take out the brain, you take the person off," he added with a brain in his hand.

The "most complex" mass of Earth

Diamond was born in California on November 11, 1926.

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Photos of UC Berkeley / Elena Zhukova

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Diamond is considered to be one of the founders of modern neuroscience.

"When I was about 15, I saw my first human brain when I was walking down the corridor of Los Angeles County Hospital, behind my father while he was visiting his patients," he wrote.

"A door was ajar, and inside that room was a brain at a small table, four men in white coats surrounded it."

"I had no idea what they were doing, but the image of that brain, which once had the potential to create ideas, remained embedded in my brain Forever, the image is as clear as if it had been yesterday. "

"The idea was fascinating: that brain represented the most complex mass of protoplasm on Earth and, perhaps, in our galaxy"

"I knew that one day I would have the opportunity to learn more about it."

And it came, but it took time.

He broke a paradigm

Graduated as a biologist at age 21 in 1948, she began her studies on the nervous system at UC Berkeley's Anatomy Department.

Shortly after, she became an assistant teacher.

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Photos of UC Berkeley / Elena Zhukova

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The researcher with her box of flowers whose content surprised more than one student at the University of California at Berkeley.

At that time, "no one studied the anatomy of higher cognitive functions," he recalled.

And although the unit in which she worked concentrated at that time on the hormones, she had found something that captivated her: the hypothalamus.

"How would 4 grams of nerve tissue play such a variety of functions?" He recalled in his essay.

Thus began a successful career as a researcher and teacher who has spanned almost 60 years.

Professor George Brooks, one of his UC Berkeley colleagues, noted that Diamond "anatomically demonstrated, for the first time, what we now call plasticity of the brain. And in doing so, he broke the old paradigm that the brain understood as a static and invariable entity which simply degenerates as we age. "

Her research on the impact of a stimulating environment and enriching activities on brain development "literally changed the world, the way we think about ourselves the way we raise our children," she added in a UC Berkeley article.

Studying Einstein

The scientist, who was Emeritus Professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, passed away on July 25, 2017 at the age of 90.

Just three years earlier he had retired from his professional activities.

In a letter in his honor, the university described it this way:Uone of the founders of modern neurosciencewas the first person to demonstrate that the brain can change with experience and perfect it and discovered evidence of it in Albert Einstein's brain. "

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Keystone / Getty Images

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Diamond found particularities in Einstein's brain.

The biologist asked to study the father's brain of Theory of Relativity. Years later, I would receive some samples from the organ.

In this way, it was she who initiated the era of Einstein's brain studies.

Diamond "reached fame in 1984 when it examined conserved fragments of Einstein's brain and found that he had more support cells in the brain than the average person," the study said.

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  • Albert Einstein's peculiar brain journey – BBC News World

In an article published by the neuroscientist in 1985, he said that the Nobel Prize in Physics had more glial cells per neuron than the control group that participated in the experiment.

Glial cells play a supporting role for neurons and actively intervene in information processing.

The text reaffirmed the idea that Einstein's brain had a peculiarity that could explain his genius.

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Michael Brennan / Getty Images

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Pathologist Thomas Harvey, who performed Einstein's autopsy in 1955, showed the physicist's brain in the United States in 1994. Harvey kept parts of the body for scientific study.

In his 2007 essay, the scientist reflected on this particularity and alluded to his earlier studies with rat brains:

"The fact that glial cells increased with enrichment led me to my hypothesis that Albert Einstein may have had more glial cells in their enriched cortex, specifically in the areas of left and right association 9 and 39, compared to the mean cortical area of ​​11 other men. "

"We found that the four regions had more glial cells than the other men, but only the left (area) 39 had significantly more statistical terms."

Under the microscope

Years before he devoted himself to the study of Einstein's brain, Diamond had had a long scientific journey in the laboratories.

There rats were fundamental. "With them, he demonstrated that an enriched environment (with toys and companionship) changed the anatomy of the brain," Berkeley said.

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Marian Diamond UC Berkeley

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With space to discover, entertain, interact, exercise … With these mice I tried Diamond and his team.

"The implication was that the brains of all animals, including humans, benefited from an enriched environment and that impoverished environments (in terms of stimulation, activities) can decrease the ability to learn"

Inspired by an observation by researcher Donald Hebb of McGill University (Canada), a UC Berkeley team conducted an experiment with very young rats: he placed 12 of them in a large enriched cage filled with toys and placed one in another cage, "depleted", small and without toys.

"Mice that grew in an intentionally enriched environment performed better in labyrinths than depleted rats that grew confinement and without stimulation"explained the neuroscientist in his essay.

The rodents that were together had more acetylcholinesterase, a brain chemist, than the rat that was isolated and bored.

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Diamond approached the leaders of this study and asked them to join the team. Prior to his enthusiasm, David Krech, Edward Bennett and Mark Rosenzweig could not say no and thus one of their key findings would come.

The biologist placed small pieces of rodent brains that participated in the experiments under the microscope lens and measured "carefully" the thickness of its shell.

"Enriched mice had a thicker cerebral cortex Mice depleted … It was the first time anyone saw a structural change in an animal brain based on different types of experiences in their early years. Could it really be true? "He evoked.

One year later, in 1963, he repeated the experiment with other rodents and the results were consistent.

"This is unique"

Diamond remembers running, full of excitement, across the university campus to the office of experimental and social psychologist David Krech.

In his hands, he carried the papers with his discoveries. When he arrived, he placed them on his desk.

A brain


Marian, your data will be fine from here to eternity because they are based on the anatomical structure "

"He saw them, looked at me and immediately said," This is unique. This will change scientific thinking about the brain"Diamond remembered that moment.

In 1964, the results were published and, a year later, the researcher would present the findings at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anatomists.

Remember there were hundreds of people in the room, "very few women."

"I was very scared." It was the first scientific study he presented at a "big conference".

"I explained the projects as quietly as I could, people politely applauded and then – I always remember this – a man stood at the back of the room and said aloud:Miss, this brain can not change.& # 39; "

"But I felt good about the work and I just said," I'm sorry, sir, but we have the initial experiment and the replication experiment that shows that it's possible. " the beauty of anatomy"

Biochemist Edward Bennet told him: "Marian, your data will be fine from here to forever, because they are based on anatomical structure."

The good news

One of Diamond's main contributions was not only to understand that the structural components of the cerebral cortex can be altered, but that changes they can happen at any age.

Two adults playing chess

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With a population that is aging more and more, this result was considered very optimistic: (…) the cortex can still show plasticity at a very advanced age "

That is, the brain can continue to develop over the years and even keeping it stimulated helps to improve the immune system.

"With a population that is aging more and more, this result was considered very optimistic: to know that the cortex can still show plasticity at a very advanced age."

In addition, their pioneering experiments help us understand that we can improve our potential regardless of the biological and genetic lottery we play at birth.

In fact, one of the phrases with which Diamond is associated is "úget out or lose"in reference to the importance of keeping the brain active, stimulated, challenged, learning.

When he explained why he continued to teach four of his courses, he said, "Because I think if more people understand the structure and functions of their body, which is intrinsically influenced by the nervous system, and take care of themselves in the early stages of their lives, then the period that will come after the age of 50 would be healthier and more enjoyable, "he wrote in 2007.

And he knew that his students would become teachers, doctors, researchers, and therefore disseminators of their discoveries.

"In summary," he wrote, "our results showed at least five factors that are important for a healthy brain according to our research:

  1. Diet
  2. Exercises
  3. Challenge
  4. Novelty
  5. Love "

Regarding the fifth factor, Diamond found that lab rats that were touched and even petted lived longer.

The teacher

His son Jeff tells me that his mother was able to establish a special relationship with his students.

"They liked her a lot," she tells me from California.

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Many of Diamond's classes and conferences can be found on YouTube with English subtitles.

"When we went to the hospital, there was a good chance we could find some of their former students, now we became doctors, and they would tell us about the good experience they had in their classes."

Wendy Suzuki, author and professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, said in a speech that the first time she saw Diamond bring a brain to one of her classes was "the day I wanted to become a neuroscientist"

According to Jeff, the impact of the mother on her students transcended the crowded classrooms.

"She is the only teacher I know of who would try randomly one or even three of her students every week and she would have lunch with them to get to know them better and deepen their interests."

He tells me how impressive his energy and ability to organize was.

"In everything he did, he asked for help. I did not intend to do it all alone and he always gave credit to others, "he says.

As a scientist, much of his research was done in laboratories. There he consolidated a group of assistants composed mainly of women.

"She was very fond of her work and did not forget to put her names on the research credits and studies she published," recalls her son.

"Like a rock star"

Daniela Kaufer, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, told BBC Mundo how the day she met Diamond.

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Scientific Photo Library

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Diamond and his team studied the role of astrocytes in brain plasticity.

"It was a special moment and, from all the places where this could have happened, it happened in the bathroom," he says.

"I was a young, newly appointed assistant professor and I did not get to meet Professor Diamond, and when I saw her, it was like watching a rock star in person."

"He turned to me and said," I'm very happy that there's someone new to the department who studies astrocytes and I envy you for being able to do this at a time when there are tools to ask big questions. " what I knew who I was. and what I was studying. It was like receiving your "blessing" in my field of investigation. "

And, according to Kaufer, Diamond's contributions were not limited to "visionary understanding of the potential of plasticity in the adult brain," but to the central role of the astrocytes in this plasticity.

It is a type of glial cell, the largest and most numerous, and Diamond and his team demonstrated, studying Einstein's brain, that "they were more important than previously believed."

Kaufer, like other experts in the field of neuroscience, does not doubt that Diamond deserves a Nobel.

"I knew why it existed"

In 1953, Diamond became a mother.

"The most shocking thing I've had so far was when I hugged my first newborn daughter and put it on my chest, I knew why it existed," he wrote.

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Courtesy: Diamond Family

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Diamond with three of her children: Richard, Catherine and Jeff in their arms. A few years later, Ann would arrive.

He had the same feeling with his other three children. Catherine, whose birth coincided with the completion of her doctorate, was followed by Richard, Jeff and Ann.

From a young age, Richard knew his mother was different. But not because she knew she was a great scientist, but because she did things that "other mothers did not do."

"There were really things cool"He tells me about California.

"He came to our school to talk about science and he brought a brain or a skeleton or some eyes inside a jar and I passed them around so everyone could see them, "he recalls.

"I loved being a mother," she tells me. "He loved being with his four children."

"When we were little, she decided that I would not work full time, I was just coming home from university in time to meet her at home when we got home from school," she recalls.

However, they realized that, in reality, he never stopped working.

"After dinner, we watched her take notes and prepare classes for the next day."

"We never heard her complain"

Richard remembers that there were weekends that took them to college.

While working in the lab, they played outside, in the green areas of the campus, always in plain sight. "He supervised us out the window."

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Getty Images

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No matter the age, the brain will benefit from the exercise of your body.

Sometimes he would let them into the laboratory, where they saw the mice with their "toys" in the cages. But he did not explain what his experiments were.

"As a child, you think," Well, that's what all parents do. "But when you're an adult, you reflect:" How could he do all these investigations and teach and also to create a family? & # 39; "

"Now that I am a father, I can not imagine how he would take us to camp and hike, how we could do the typical activities of a family, and also see him doing his studies and teaching." We never heard her complain or say that. there were not enough hours in the day. She was incredible. "

"I remember when I grew up, I told your students and even my friends that you could start a family and have a career."

The 4 Ps of the Marian Diamond

The researcher not only held important academic positions in the United States, but also traveled to different countries to share her research, promote early childhood education, and attract more women to science.

In his 2007 essay, he shared what he called his 4 Ps:

  • Priority Personal: family and friends
  • Priority PProfessional: friendly brains, classmates and students
  • Perseetiveness: essential for everything
  • Attitude Positive: look for the alternative

Maybe an anecdote that collects The Washington Post reflects a combination of these 4 Ps:

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Photos of UC Berkeley / Elena Zhukova

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This box has become a distinctive feature of Marian Diamond's classes.

Her daughter Ann said that on one occasion her mother crossed the country to visit her at a summer camp. On the plane, he wore two boxes of hats: one was a peach pie and the other, of course, a human brain.

"Ann ate the cake," the paper recalls.

When I asked Richard where his mother decided to carry her brain in a hat box, she told me she did not remember it very well.

"I think it was one day that he was looking for something to take the brain to one of his classes, the brain was inside a round bottle and when he saw the box he decided to put it there because it fit perfectly."

"He kept this box all his life, it became part of his signature," he says.

And in a colorful detail from the beginnings of modern neuroscience.

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