Legislators test and touch brains at tour of LSI research

Legislators test and touch brains at tour of LSI research

A key group of Kansas legislators toured the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas on January 22 to see first-hand how research is tackling critical issues related to child development, disability and aging. They were impressed. In a letter to her constituents, for example, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, Topeka, said that the Life Span Institute is “truly a jewel in our state.”

Scientists in gerontology, neurology, communication disorders and psychology presented their research to 16 members of the House and Senate. The tour was organized by the Life Span Institute and the Provost’s office to show how KU research in the neurosciences and related areas directly benefits the lives of Kansans.

Mabel Rice, Distinguished Professor of Speech- Language-Hearing, demonstrated a non-invasive method of measuring the brain activity that occurs while an individual is making sense of a spoken sentence. Legislators could touch the pulsing pacifier, the NTrainer, which was explained by its inventor, Steven Barlow, professor of speech-language-hearing and director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory. The device trains premature infants with no or poor sucking ability to rapidly learn to suck normally. Senior Scientist Sara Sack explained the accomplishments of her group to get assistive technology (wheelchairs, speech devices, ramps) to Kansans through regional centers, loan banks and low-cost loans.

A few brave legislators volunteered to be tested on following a moving object on a computer screen with a computer mouse while being questioned. The test, developed by Roy Roberts Distinguished Professor of Psychology Susan Kemper, is part of a study to determine how aging affects the ability to “multitask” – that is, to do more than one thing at a time. Finally, invited legislators to examine the brains of people who died from Alzheimer’s disease as a way to explain his research of early preclinical markers of the disease.

Legislators who attended were Rep. Bob Bethell, Alden; Rep. Tom Burroughs, Kansas City; Rep. David Crum, Augusta; Sen. Marci Francisco, Lawrence; Rep. Tom Hawk, Manhattan; Rep. Jerry Henry, Cummings; Rep. Peggy Mast, Emporia; Rep. Jo Ann Pottor , Wichita; Rep. Marc Rhoades, Newton; Sen. Vicki Schmidt, Topeka; Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, Thayer; Rep. Kay Wolf, Prairie Village, and Rep. Kevin Yoder, Olathe. Also attending was Nikki, Feuerborn, chief of staff to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. University officials included KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Provost Richard Lariviere.