Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton has served as a correspondent for NPR's science desk since 1998. His current beat includes neuroscience, health risks, behavior, and bioterrorism. Recent pieces include a series on the chemical perchlorate, which is turning up in California's water supply; a government effort to find out just how many autistic children there are in the U.S.; and an exploration of "neuromarketing."

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He completed a project on states that have radically changed their Medicaid programs for the poor by enrolling beneficiaries in private HMOs.

From 1995-1997, Hamilton wrote on health and medical topics as a freelance writer, after having been a medical reporter for both The Commercial Appeal and Physician's Weekly.

Hamilton graduated with honors from Oberlin College in Ohio with a B.A. in English. As a student, he was the editor of the Oberlin Review student newspaper. He earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University where he graduated with honors, won the Baker Prize for magazine writing, and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

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4:06pm

Fri January 23, 2015
Shots - Health News

Leaky Blood Vessels In The Brain May Lead To Alzheimer's

Originally published on Fri January 23, 2015 6:18 pm

Leaks in a barrier between blood vessels and brain cells could contribute to the development of Alzheimer's.
VEM Science Source

Researchers appear to have found a new risk factor for Alzheimer's disease: leaky blood vessels.

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4:33pm

Wed January 14, 2015
Shots - Health News

From The Mouths Of Apes, Babble Hints At Origins of Human Speech

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 8:56 am

Tilda the orangutan, relaxing between gabfests at the Cologne Zoo.
Cologne Zoo

An orangutan named Tilda is providing scientists with fresh evidence that even early human ancestors had the ability to make speechlike vocalizations.

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5:19pm

Wed January 7, 2015
Shots - Health News

Brain Scans May Help Predict Future Problems, And Solutions

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 5:55 pm

By measuring activity in different parts of the brain, neuroscientsts can get a sense of how some people will respond to treatments.
John Lund Getty Images

Brain scans may soon be able to help predict a person's future — some aspects of it, anyway.

Information from these scans increasingly is able to suggest whether a child will have trouble with math, say, or whether someone with mental illness is going to respond to a particular treatment, according to a review of dozens of studies published Wednesday in the journal Neuron.

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3:52am

Tue January 6, 2015
The Salt

How Anglers Are Learning To Save Fish That Get 'The Bends'

Originally published on Tue January 6, 2015 11:35 am

Barotrauma can cause a fish's eyes to pop out of its head and its stomach to be pushed out of its mouth, according to Chris Lowe, a marine scientist at California State, Long Beach.
Jon Hamilton NPR

3:43am

Mon December 22, 2014
Shots - Health News

A Family's Long Search For Fragile X Drug Finds Frustration, Hope

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 10:17 pm

Katie Clapp shares a laugh with her son Andy Tranfaglia, 25, at their home in West Newbury, Mass. Andy has a rare genetic condition called fragile X syndrome.
Ellen Webber for NPR

For a few weeks last year, Michael Tranfaglia and Katie Clapp saw a remarkable change in their son, Andy, who'd been left autistic and intellectually disabled by fragile X syndrome. Andy, who is 25, became more social, more talkative and happier. "He was just doing incredibly well," his father says.

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9:21am

Wed December 10, 2014
Shots - Health News

A Crowd Of Scientists Finds A Better Way To Predict Seizures

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 8:12 am

Mathematician Phillip Adkins (left) and Drew Abbot, a software engineer at AiLive. They were members of the winning team.
Courtesy of Phillip Adkins

An online contest for data scientists has produced a great leap forward in efforts to predict when someone with epilepsy is going to have a seizure. The winning team used data on electrical activity in the brain to develop an algorithm that predicted seizures 82 percent of the time.

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5:08am

Mon December 8, 2014
Shots - Health News

Medicine's Subtle Art Gives A Man The Chance To Breathe Again

Originally published on Tue December 9, 2014 4:57 pm

Bob Smithson, 79, can now hold his head upright and breathe on his own, thanks to a medication for myasthenia gravis.
M. Scott Brauer for NPR

Bob Smithson had been in the critical care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for more than a week. He had a rare neuromuscular disease, and his 78-year-old body was being kept alive by tubes that delivered air to his lungs and food to his stomach.

Then Bob's wife, Pat, got some really disturbing news. The hospital's medical staff wanted Bob to have a tracheostomy, a surgical procedure that would carve a hole in his neck and allow doctors to keep him on a breathing machine indefinitely.

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4:32pm

Wed December 3, 2014
Shots - Health News

A Drug Might Heal Spinal Injuries By Sparking Nerve Growth

Originally published on Sun January 4, 2015 2:56 pm

A scientist who chose to ignore the mainstream nearly 30 years ago has found a new way to regenerate nerves in the spinal cord, at least in animals. A drug that Jerry Silver, a professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University, helped design a drug that has allowed paralyzed rats to regain bladder function and even walk.

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4:19am

Fri November 21, 2014
Shots - Health News

Blind From Birth, But Able To Use Sound To 'See' Faces

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 2:04 pm

A brain area that recognizes faces remains functional even in people who have been blind since birth, researchers say. The finding, presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting this week, suggests that facial recognition is so important that evolution has hardwired it into the human brain.

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9:56am

Thu November 20, 2014
Shots - Health News

Sleep's Link To Learning And Memory Traced To Brain Chemistry

Originally published on Thu November 20, 2014 5:23 pm

Almost a century after the discovery that sleep helps us remember things, scientists are beginning to understand why.

During sleep, the brain produces chemicals that are important to memory and relives events we want to remember, scientists reported this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington D.C.

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3:06am

Mon November 10, 2014
Goats and Soda

Ebola Today Could Mean Illiteracy Tomorrow In West Africa

Originally published on Mon November 10, 2014 10:05 am

Mariama and Fomba Kanneh play in an open space in Barkedu, Liberia. With schools closed across the country, many kids spend their time playing outside every day.
Tommy Trenchard for NPR

Ebola is threatening to reverse years of educational progress in West Africa. The virus has kept school closed for months in a part of the world where literacy rates are low and school systems are only now recovering from years of civil war.

In Liberia, many children have been put to work while schools are closed, and Ebola is hurting the economy, says Laurent Duvillier, a communication specialist at UNICEF. The fear now, he says, is that many of these children will never return to school.

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4:39am

Tue October 28, 2014
Goats and Soda

An Ebola Strategy Brings Good News To One Liberian Town

Originally published on Thu October 30, 2014 3:49 pm

The nursing staff get a break at the Ebola care center run by Doctors Without Borders in Foya, Liberia. The center has helped stop the spread of the virus.
Michealeen Doucleff NPR

In one corner of Liberia, a community has come together to change the course of the deadly epidemic. New cases have been brought to a standstill. This success shows that it's going to take more than extra beds at a ward to stop Ebola.

When Doctors Without Borders arrived in the northern district of Foya in early August, Ebola was out of control. Foya was the first area in Liberia to report cases, and the community has been hit hard.

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4:47am

Thu October 23, 2014
Goats and Soda

Ebola Is Keeping Kids From Getting Vaccinated In Liberia

Originally published on Mon November 10, 2014 10:12 am

A mom at the Community Clinic in Louisiana Township, about 15 miles from Monrovia, says all of her children have been vaccinated.
Jon Hamilton NPR

When Ebola began killing people in the Monrovia suburb of Clara Town several months ago, some residents blamed vaccines.

One vaccinator in the town says mothers didn't want her near their babies.

"They had a notion that when the people come to the hospital, we would inject them and kill them," says vaccinator Che Che Richardson at the Clara Town Health Center, "because it was the hospital giving the people Ebola."

Rumors like that, combined with the closing of many health facilities, have caused childhood vaccination rates to plummet in Liberia.

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5:27pm

Tue October 21, 2014
Goats and Soda

For Healthy Liberians, Life Continues — With Some Adjustments

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 7:01 am

Angie Gardea depends on her job at a hair salon to put food on the table. But because of the Ebola outbreak, business has been slow. Customers are afraid to come in.
Michaeleen Doucleff NPR

Ebola has killed more than 1,300 people in Liberia's capital of Monrovia. But for the million-plus residents who aren't sick, life goes on even as their city is reshaped by death.

On market day, the downtown is teeming with shoppers and merchants and people just hanging out. It almost looks like commerce as usual until you notice all the "Ebola buckets," elevated plastic containers with spigots that deliver a chlorine solution for hand-washing.

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4:23am

Mon October 20, 2014
Goats and Soda

Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word

Originally published on Mon October 20, 2014 9:26 am

The Rev. Herman Browne voluntarily quarantined himself for 21 days after his wife's friend tested positive for Ebola. On Sunday, he returned to his church, Trinity Cathedral, to preach to his congregation about Ebola prevention.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Night clubs have shut their doors. Soccer leagues have been suspended. And a strict curfew is keeping the streets empty at night.

But there's one place in Monrovia where people continue to gather despite the threat of Ebola: Sunday church service.

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5:06pm

Tue September 30, 2014
Shots - Health News

BRAIN Initiative Bets on Wearable Scanners, Laser-Controlled Cells

Originally published on Thu October 2, 2014 11:46 am

Andrew Ostrovsky iStockphoto

Eighteen months after its launch, President Obama's plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain is finally taking shape. During separate events Tuesday, the White House and National Institutes of Health offered details about which projects are being funded and why.

At a morning press conference, NIH officials announced $46 million in grant awards to more than 100 investigators. Most of the researchers are working on tools that can "transform how we study the brain," said NIH Director Francis Collins.

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3:26am

Mon September 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

A Doctor Unlocks Mysteries Of The Brain By Talking And Watching

Originally published on Mon September 29, 2014 3:23 pm

Dr. Allan Ropper speaks with residents and fellows as they do rounds at the neuroscience intensive care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
M. Scott Brauer for NPR

The heavyset man with a bandage on his throat is having trouble repeating a phrase. "No ifs ..." he says to the medical students and doctors around his bed at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Can I hear you say no ifs, ands or buts?" says Dr. Allan Ropper, the Harvard neurologist in charge. The patient tries again. "No ifs, buts, ands or," he says.

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3:34am

Tue September 23, 2014
Shots - Health News

Death Cuts Short The Life Of An Alzheimer's Research Volunteer

Originally published on Mon September 29, 2014 4:45 pm

Justin McCowan poses for a portrait outside of his house in Santa Monica, Calif., on Aug. 14.
Benjamin B. Morris for NPR

If you're a regular Shots reader or Morning Edition listener, you may remember a recent story about Justin McCowan, a man with Down syndrome who wanted to help researchers find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. McCowan died in his sleep on Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 40.

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6:25pm

Thu September 18, 2014
Cities Project

A Coastal Paradise Confronts Its Watery Future

Originally published on Thu September 18, 2014 6:59 pm

Half the land in the city of Satellite Beach is only 6 feet above the waterline.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Dan Reiter, 37, is a long-board surfer and contractor who used to live in Tampa, Fla. Then he discovered the surf breaks along a stretch of coast south of Cape Canaveral. "It's one of the most beautiful places in the world to live and surf and raise your kids," says Reiter, 37, as we watch head-high waves roll into Hightower Beach.

But there's trouble in this coastal paradise. It's on a low-lying barrier island that's getting lower as sea level rises. So the cities here are looking for ways to keep the water at bay or retreat from it.

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3:25am

Mon August 25, 2014
Shots - Health News

People With Down Syndrome Are Pioneers In Alzheimer's Research

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 8:53 am

Justin McCowan, 39, has Down syndrome and lives at home with his parents in Santa Monica, Calif.
Benjamin B. Morris for NPR

When researchers at the University of California, San Diego wanted to study an experimental Alzheimer's drug last year, they sought help from an unlikely group: people with Down syndrome.

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3:43am

Wed August 6, 2014
NPR Ed

Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 6:40 pm

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

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3:41pm

Mon August 4, 2014
Shots - Health News

Oxytocin Isn't Lacking In Children With Autism, Researchers Say

Originally published on Wed August 6, 2014 12:22 pm

The hormone oxytocin affects social functioning, but researchers say it isn't commonly lacking in children with autism.
danchooalex/iStockphoto

Scratch one more simple explanation for autism off the list. This time it's the idea that children with autism have low levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" because it can make people more trusting and social.

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3:27am

Thu July 10, 2014
Shots - Health News

Bingeing On Bad News Can Fuel Daily Stress

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 3:34 pm

Katherine Streeter for NPR

If you're feeling stressed these days, the news media may be partly to blame.

At least that's the suggestion of a national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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4:36pm

Mon June 2, 2014
Shots - Health News

Bursts Of Light Create Memories, Then Take Them Away

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 4:38 pm

Katherine Streeter for NPR

You can't just open up a living brain and see the memories inside.

So Roberto Malinow, a brain scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent years trying to find other ways to understand how memories are made and lost. The research — right now being done in rats – should lead to a better understanding of human memory problems ranging from Alzheimer's to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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3:33am

Mon June 2, 2014
Shots - Health News

Pregnancy Hormone May Reduce Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 11:30 am

A collage of family photos of Melissa Sherak Glasser.
Mark Turner for NPR

For decades, women with multiple sclerosis have noticed that they tend to do better while they are pregnant. That has led to an experimental drug for the disease that's based on a hormone associated with pregnancy.

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2:08am

Tue May 27, 2014
Shots - Health News

Military Plans To Test Brain Implants To Fight Mental Disorders

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 1:35 pm

In epilepsy, the normal behavior of brain neurons is disturbed. The drug valproic acid appears to help the brain replenish a key chemical, preventing seizures.
David Mack/Science Source

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is launching a $70 million program to help military personnel with psychiatric disorders using electronic devices implanted in the brain.

The goal of the five-year program is to develop new ways of treating problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which are common among service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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3:46pm

Thu May 8, 2014
Shots - Health News

Anti-Aging Hormone Could Make You Smarter

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 7:49 pm

Klotho (right) is one of the three Greek Fates depicted in this Flemish tapestry at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Wikimedia Commons

A hormone associated with longevity also appears to make people's brains work better.

The finding in Cell Reports could someday lead to drugs that improve memory and learning, researchers say.

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4:25pm

Mon May 5, 2014
Science

Max Planck Goes To Florida, Invites Brain Scientists To Join

Originally published on Mon May 5, 2014 6:35 pm

Germany's famous Max Planck Society has opened a brain research institute in Jupiter, Fla. It's another move in the international competition to attract the best brain researchers.

4:36pm

Wed April 23, 2014
Shots - Health News

Education May Help Insulate The Brain Against Traumatic Injury

Originally published on Thu April 24, 2014 7:24 am

Proust and algebra may not sound like brain protection, but higher levels of education correlate with cognitive reserve.
iStockphoto

A little education goes a long way toward ensuring you'll recover from a serious traumatic brain injury. In fact, people with lots of education are seven times more likely than high school dropouts to have no measurable disability a year later.

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5:24pm

Fri April 18, 2014
Shots - Health News

One Scientist's Quest To Vanquish Epileptic Seizures

Originally published on Fri April 18, 2014 7:13 pm

The dream of epilepsy research, says neurobiologist Ivan Soltesz, is to stop seizures by manipulating only some brain cells, not all.
Steve Zylius UC Irvine Communications

In the early 1990s, a young brain researcher named Ivan Soltesz heard a story that would shape his career.

His adviser told him about a school for children whose epileptic seizures were so severe and frequent that they had to wear helmets to prevent head injuries. The only exception to the helmet rule was for students who received an award.

"The big deal for them is that they can take the helmet off while they're walking across the stage," Soltesz says. "And that thing struck me as just wrong."

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