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Letter from the editor | 132

Well used neurons

The sandbar vegetation that skirts the road that leads from Natal to Macaíba is a bit reminiscent, at least to my Bahia eyes, of the Green Line, the highway that gives access to some of the most paradisiacal stretches of the northeastern coastline, between Praia do Forte, in Bahia, and Mangue Seco, in Sergipe. But doing the trip mentioned on that highway, we are, in actual fact, going into the continent, distancing ourselves from the beautiful beaches of Natal and coming close to the River Potengi, a tributary of the Jundiaí. Nothing, though, that ought to concern excessively the young doctors and post-doctors of any part of the country that decide to dive into the crucial inquiries of cutting edge neuroscience that the International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal (IINN) promises to pursue in the land of Rio Grande do Norte, and at the same time want to enjoy the sea in Natal. After all, the IINN is something like 20 or 25 kilometers from the beaches of Natal. It’s only a hop away. But to judge from the pace of work of neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, the brain at the head of the IINN project, what will really be difficult for the young scientists in question will be to find much free time for the waves in Natal.

A full professor at Duke University, where he commands a laboratory with 1,100 square meters, who proposes novelties that are by no means consensus in the field of basic science of the brain, while he carries out advanced experiments with mice and monkeys, with his eyes set on the construction of neuroprostheses (robotic arms, for example) capable of obeying nothing more than the cerebral orders, Nicolelis has proved to be tireless. One day he is in Durham, the next in São Paulo, afterwards in Natal, and he is now going on to Japan… It seems to be extenuating, but everything indicates that he likes what he does very much. And even more his conviction that it is possible to link, in a country like Brazil, cutting edge science to social transformation in needy communities. The work of Nicolelis’s team, with the decisive support of Sidarta Ribeiro, and not to forget Cláudio Mello, earned the cover of Pesquisa FAPESP for its importance. Which will certainly be reevaluated between February 23 and 25 at the 2nd Symposium of the IINN.

Studies of behavior, or rather, of changes in social behaviors, frequently bring a fine load of information about the transit of societies from an archaic, or at least, established standard to another that nobody used to believe would come into force one day. And when these changes occur in relation to institutions that are as solid as the highest rock of the Sugar Loaf, in general it is believed that they will be followed by some sort of social deluge, with the instauration of chaos and of an insupportable permissiveness. Very well, it is nothing like this that is attested by recent studies about families with gay parents. The pair of equals, be they men or women, reveals very few differences in relation to heterosexual couples as far as raising children is concerned. It is worthwhile checking this out in the article by Carlos Haag.

Any doubt about our capacity to be good and productive in some areas that are not samba and football? A study in scientometry shows that we enjoy a reasonable international prestige, shall we say, in certain scientific areas in which the country has invested more seriously over the years. Or decades, in some cases. The criterion that measured this aimed  scientific articles by Brazilians or with a participation of Brazilians cited by other authors between 1994 and 2003. And then came some obvious results, and others, surprising. One example of the first case: we are good in cardiovascular surgery. Of the second: we are good in particle physics. It is all explained in “What are we good at?”. Ah, and taking advantage of the motto of this issue: we are good in neuroscience as well.