11.18.2004

NASA Studies Rain Man
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Understanding changes in the brain as we age or are subject to stresses seems to be critical in developing a wholistic view of cognitive processes. Perhaps, through closer study of such processes from divergent perspectives and using comparative research methods and subjects with differing conditions insight can be shed on the early stages of Alzheimer's formation. In that spirit, NASA researchers in Mountain View, CA (where we are also 'based!')are investigating the brain of the man who was the model for the character "Rain Main" in the well-known film.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) -- NASA scientists are studying the man who was the basis for Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1988 film "Rain Man," hoping that technology used to study the effects of space travel on the brain will help explain his mental capabilities.

Last week, researchers had autistic savant Kim Peek undergo a series of tests including computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, the results of which will be melded to create a three-dimensional look at his brain structure.

The researchers want to compare a series of MRI images taken in 1988 by Dr. Dan Christensen, Peek's neuropsychiatrist at the University of Utah, to see what has since changed within his brain.

Not only are Peek's brain and his abilities unique, noted Richard D. Boyle, director of the California center performing the scans, but he seems to be getting smarter in his specialty areas as he ages.

The 53-year-old Peek is called a "mega-savant" because he is a genius in about 15 different subjects, from history and literature and geography to numbers, sports, music and dates. But he also is severely limited in other ways, like not being able to find the silverware drawer at home or dressing himself.

"The goal is to measure what happens in Kim's brain when he expresses things and when he thinks about them," said his father, Fran.



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