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.

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4:58am

Tue March 31, 2015
Shots - Health News

No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:57 pm

About twice a year, statistics suggest, a pilot somewhere in the world — usually flying alone — deliberately crashes a plane. The Germanwing flight downed last week may be one such case. But most people who fit the psychological profile of the pilots in these very rare events never have problems while flying.
Patrik Stollarz AFP/Getty Images

Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week's Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say.

"As a field, we're not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior," says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals "perform no better than chance" when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.

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4:14pm

Wed March 25, 2015
Shots - Health News

University And Biotech Firm Team Up On Colorblindness Therapy

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 7:23 pm

A simulation from the Neitz lab of what colorblindness looks like, with normal color vision on the left and red-green colorblindness on the right.
Courtesy of Neitz Laboratory

More than 10 million Americans have trouble distinguishing red from green or blue from yellow, and there's no treatment for colorblindness.

A biotech company and two scientists hope to change that.

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3:44am

Tue March 24, 2015
Shots - Health News

Many Doctors Who Diagnose Alzheimer's Fail To Tell The Patient

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 1:01 pm

When combined with results of other neurological tests, and in the context of a thorough medical history, atrophy of the brain (shown here in an MRI scan) sometimes indicates Alzheimer's.
Simon Fraser Science Source

Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer's, according to a report released this week by the Alzheimer's Association.

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6:31pm

Mon March 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

Clues To Autism, Schizophrenia Emerge From Cerebellum Research

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 4:27 pm

Jonathan Keleher talks with a colleague, Rafael Wainhaus, at work. Keleher was born without a cerebellum, but his brain has developed work-arounds for solving problems of balance and abstract thought.
Ellen Webber for NPR

A new understanding of the brain's cerebellum could lead to new treatments for people with problems caused by some strokes, autism and even schizophrenia.

That's because there's growing evidence that symptoms ranging from difficulty with abstract thinking to emotional instability to psychosis all have links to the cerebellum, says Jeremy Schmahmann, a professor of neurology at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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3:08am

Mon March 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

A Man's Incomplete Brain Reveals Cerebellum's Role In Thought And Emotion

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:40 pm

Jonathan Keleher is one of a handful of people who have lived their entire lives without a cerebellum.
Ellen Webber for NPR

Since his birth 33 years ago, Jonathan Keleher has been living without a cerebellum, a structure that usually contains about half the brain's neurons.

This exceedingly rare condition has left Jonathan with a distinctive way of speaking and a walk that is slightly awkward. He also lacks the balance to ride a bicycle.

But all that hasn't kept him from living on his own, holding down an office job and charming pretty much every person he meets.

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5:24pm

Mon March 9, 2015
Shots - Health News

Mad Cow Research Hints At Ways To Halt Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 9:18 am

Prion protein can be infectious, spreading from cell to cell in the brain. Here four nerve cells in a mouse illustrate how infectious prion protein moves within cells along neurites — wire-like connections the nerve cells use for communicating with adjacent cells.
Science Source

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ravage the brain in very different ways. But they have at least one thing in common, says Corinne Lasmezas, a neuroscientist and professor at Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Fla. Each spreads from brain cell to brain cell like an infection.

"So if we could block this [process], that might prevent the diseases," Lasmezas says.

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9:44pm

Thu February 19, 2015
Shots - Health News

Why California's Superbug Outbreak Isn't As Scary As It Seems

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 5:49 pm

A particularly nasty family of gut bacteria with the nickname CRE is resistant even to carbapenems, a family of last-resort antibiotics.
CDC

News reports are describing a "nightmare superbug" killing people in California. But scientists who study infectious diseases say the risk from this outbreak doesn't live up to the alarming headlines.

"It's not something that is likely to spread around the community or is a cause for alarm," says David Perlin, an infectious disease scientist and executive director of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers.

Here's what government health officials and the UCLA Health system have said so far:

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4:03pm

Wed February 18, 2015
Shots - Health News

Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 2:57 pm

iStockphoto

When you whack yourself with a hammer, it feels like the pain is in your thumb. But really it's in your brain.

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3:42am

Mon February 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 4:56 pm

Eastman Chemical went a step beyond calling Tritan plastic BPA-free, setting off a legal challenge.
Eastman

BPA-free isn't good enough anymore if you're trying to sell plastic sippy cups, water bottles and food containers.

The new standard may be "EA-free," which means free of not only BPA, short for bisphenol A, but also free of other chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen.

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3:39am

Wed February 4, 2015
Shots - Health News

Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 8:16 am

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left).
Courtesy of Juniper Russo

The ongoing measles outbreak linked to Disneyland has led to some harsh comments about parents who don't vaccinate their kids. But Juniper Russo, a writer in Chattanooga, Tenn., says she understands those parents because she used to be one of them.

"I know what it's like to be scared and just want to protect your children, and make the wrong decisions," Russo says.

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