Brain Man: A Conversation with Cognitive Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley

By Jeff Miller

Photo of Adam Gazzaley

Fundamental is a word scientists like to use a lot. Fundamental knowledge. Fundamental insight. Fundamental discovery. Well, you get the idea.

But it is the deeper thinkers, the activist intellectuals, who aim their research squarely at fundamental truths. Their goal is underlying principles, the unity behind the patterns. Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, is one of that breed. Gazzaley, an accomplished nature photographer as well as director of UCSF's Neuroscience Imaging Center, has set his sights on the baby boomer's biggest lament: Why is my brain sagging, along with my skin?

To answer that question, Gazzaley seeks to understand how a brain actually ages, and then to quantify in human testing what processing power is lost. He wants to nail down the neural interfaces between attention and memory and focus and filtering. And he needs to track how brain regions team up to store and retrieve information.

Maybe, just maybe, he concedes, all of the various effects associated with an aging brain can be traced to the bottom of some cognitive pyramid. Just how deep into that pyramid Gazzaley has already explored should be encouraging to those who sometimes forget where they have parked their car or who find the names even of old friends harder to retrieve.

In short, Adam Gazzaley could one day be the scientist behind the new drug, the new device or the new brain exercise that makes us remember what we have lost. That alone would make him hard to forget.

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Gazzaley Lab
Wanderings —
Adam Gazzaley Photography