Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience, health risks, and extreme weather.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Hamilton was part of NPR's team of science reporters and editors who went to Japan to cover the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Hamilton contributed several pieces to the Science Desk series "The Human Edge," which looked at what makes people the most versatile and powerful species on Earth. His reporting explained how humans use stories, how the highly evolved human brain is made from primitive parts, and what autism reveals about humans social brains.

In 2009, Hamilton received the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for his piece on the neuroscience behind treating autism.

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He reported on states that have improved 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 Bachelor of Arts degree 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 During his time at Columbia, Hamilton was awarded the Baker Prize for magazine writing and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

In 2007, Eastman Chemical began marketing a tough new BPA-free plastic called Tritan. Business was good, says Lucian Boldea, a vice president at Eastman.

"We were able to make the statement that our product is not made with BPA and would release data to consumers to support that fact," he says.

When Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps steps onto a starting block a few days from now, a Stanford scientist named Krishna Shenoy will be asking himself a question: "What's going on in Michael Phelps' brain?"

Specifically, Shenoy would like to know what's happening in an area called the premotor cortex. This area doesn't directly tell muscles what to do. But it's the place where the brain gears up for something the body is about to do, like swimming.

It's been years since manufacturers voluntarily stopped using the plastic additive BPA (Bisphenol A) in sippy cups and baby bottles. But now they have no choice. The FDA announced it has formally banned BPA from these products.

Finally, there's some good news about Alzheimer's disease.

It turns out that a few lucky people carry a genetic mutation that greatly reduces their risk of getting the disease, an Icelandic team reports in the journal Nature.

The mutation also seems to protect people who don't have Alzheimer's disease from the cognitive decline that typically occurs with age.

There's fresh evidence that cats can be a threat to your mental health.

To be fair, it's not kitties themselves that are the problem, but a parasite they carry called Toxoplasma gondii.

A study of more than 45,000 Danish women found that those infected with this feline parasite were 1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than women who weren't infected.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit health advocacy organization, says you should be concerned about pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, but not so concerned that you stop eating these foods.

That's the mixed message delivered in the eighth edition of EWG's annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce released today.

Like a lot of people with autism, Jeff Hudale has a brain that's really good at some things.

"I have an unusual aptitude for numbers, namely math computations," he says.

Hudale can do triple-digit multiplication in his head. That sort of ability helped him get a degree in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. But he says his brain struggles with other subjects like literature and philosophy.

"I like working with things that are rather concrete and structured," he says. "Yeah, I like things with some logic and some rules to it."

Quite a few of the 225 people who live in Dish, Texas, think the nation's natural gas boom is making them sick.

They blame the chemicals used in gas production for health problems ranging from nosebleeds to cancer.

And the mayor of Dish, Bill Sciscoe, has a message for people who live in places where gas drilling is about to start: "Run. Run as fast as you can. Grab up your family and your belongings, and get out."

A proposed study of people in northern Pennsylvania could help resolve a national debate about whether the natural gas boom is making people sick.

The study would look at detailed health histories on hundreds of thousands of people who live near the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation in which energy companies have already drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.

If the study goes forward, it would be the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of gas production.

Lots of kids get bullied. But kids with autism are especially vulnerable.

A new survey by the Interactive Autism Network found that nearly two-thirds of children with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied at some point. And it found that these kids are three times as likely as typical kids to have been bullied in the past month.

Scientists have found one more reason that pregnancy and obesity can be a bad combination.

A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that moms who are obese or have diabetes are more likely to have a child with autism or another developmental problem.

The finding is "worrisome in light of this rather striking epidemic of obesity" in the U.S., says Irva Hertz-Picciotto from the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, one of the study's authors.

UPDATE 4:23 p.m.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has denied a call to ban the plastic additive BPA from food packaging. The action comes after government scientists found little reason to think people are being harmed by the chemical.

The FDA was responding to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which called for the ban on BPA, also known as bisphenol A, from any use where it comes in contact with food.



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And I'm David Greene.

It turns out your brain is organized even if you're not.

At least that's the conclusion of a study in Science that looked at the network of fibers that carry signals from one part of the brain to another.

When a nerve is injured, it's often hard to get it to regrow fast enough to restore function.

But now researchers say they can speed up that process, so that damaged nerves can be healed in days instead of months — at least in rats.

The scientists say they've developed a technique that reconnects the severed ends of a nerve, allowing it to begin carrying messages again very quickly. Usually, severed nerves must regrow from the point of injury — a process that can take months, if it ever happens.

Many addicts inherit a brain that has trouble just saying no to drugs.

A study in Science finds that cocaine addicts have abnormalities in areas of the brain involved in self-control. And these abnormalities appear to predate any drug abuse.

The study, done by a team at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., looked at 50 pairs of siblings. One member of each pair was a cocaine addict. The other had no history of drug abuse.

A club drug called "Special K" is generating a lot of buzz among researchers who study depression.

That's because "Special K," which is actually an FDA-approved anesthetic named ketamine, can relieve even suicidal depression in a matter of hours. And it works on many patients who haven't responded to current antidepressants like Prozac.

Those traditional drugs, which act on the brain's serotonin system, can take more than a month to kick in, and don't work for up to 40 percent of people with major depression.

There's no quick fix for severe depression.

Although antidepressants like Prozac have been around since the 1970s, they usually take weeks to make a difference. And for up to 40 percent of patients, they simply don't work.

As a result, there are limited options when patients show up in an emergency room with suicidal depression.

The doctors and nurses at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston say they see this problem every day.

The more exposure children have to chemicals called perfluorinated compounds, the less likely they are to have a good immune response to vaccinations, a study just published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association shows.

The finding suggests, but doesn't prove, that these chemicals can affect the immune system enough to make some children more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

You may want to read this twice if you're older than 45. In fact, you may have to.

That's because your mental abilities are already in decline, according to a study of 7,390 British civil servants just published in BMJ, the British Medical Journal.

2011 may go down as the year of the retraction in the scientific world.

Among the highly publicized discoveries that got debunked this year: a genetic basis for longevity; a new form of life; an explanation for autism; and a link between a virus and chronic fatigue syndrome.

All of these non-discoveries have something in common. They involved findings that both scientists and the public badly wanted to believe.

A little brain stimulation seems to speed up recovery from a stroke.

This isn't the sort of brain stimulation you get from conversation. It's done using an electromagnetic coil placed against the scalp.

Researchers think the treatment encourages brain cells to form new connections, allowing the brain to rewire itself to compensate for damage caused by a stroke.

If you read the ingredient list on a can of soup, you're likely to see items like carrots, wild rice, perhaps some noodles. What you won't see listed: BPA.

But a little canned soup for lunch can dramatically increase exposure to the chemical, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study confirms that canned food is a source of BPA exposure. But it does nothing to clear up the question of whether this sort of exposure to BPA has health consequences.

Scientists say they are beginning to understand why brain injuries are so common in very premature infants — and they are coming up with strategies to prevent or repair these injuries.

The advances could eventually help reduce the number of premature babies who develop cerebral palsy, epilepsy or behavioral disorders such as ADHD, researchers told the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.