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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9:38am

Tue October 16, 2012
Shots - Health News

Teenage Brains Are Malleable And Vulnerable, Researchers Say

Brain scans are showing researchers why it's important to treat problems like depression in teens.
iStockphoto.com

Adolescent brains have gotten a bad rap, according to neuroscientists.

It's true that teenage brains can be impulsive, scientists reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans. But adolescent brains are also vulnerable, dynamic and highly responsive to positive feedback, they say.

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11:05am

Mon October 15, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Brain Scientists Uncover New Links Between Stress And Depression

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 12:10 pm

Scientists say they're learning more about how to keep stress from damaging mental health.
iStockphoto.com

Even extreme stress doesn't have to get you down.

That's the message from brain scientists studying the relationship between stress and problems such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Researchers at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans presented studies showing how stress caused by everything from battlefield trauma to bullying can alter brain circuitry in ways that have long-term effects on mental health.

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4:12pm

Thu October 4, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Ketamine Relieves Depression By Restoring Brain Connections

A rat neuron before (top) and after (bottom) ketamine treatment. The increased number of orange nodes are restored connections in the rat's brain.
Ronald Duman/Yale University

Scientists say they have figured out how an experimental drug called ketamine is able to relieve major depression in hours instead of weeks.

Researchers from Yale and the National Institute of Mental Health say ketamine seems to cause a burst of new connections to form between nerve cells in parts of the brain involved in emotion and mood.

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2:19pm

Mon September 24, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Experimental Drug Is First To Help Kids With Premature Aging Disease

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 4:11 pm

Sam Berns, 15, who has the very rare premature-aging disease progeria, plays the drums in his high school's marching band.
Courtesy of the Progeria Research Foundation

Researchers have found the first drug to treat progeria, an extremely rare genetic disease that causes children to age so rapidly that many die in their teens.

The drug, called lonafarnib, is not a cure. But in a study published Monday of 28 children, it reversed changes in blood vessels that usually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

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2:33am

Thu September 20, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

New Experimental Drug Offers Autism Hope

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 9:10 am

Andy Tranfaglia, 23, who has Fragile X syndrome, rides a horse with his mother, Katie Clapp.
Katie Clapp

An experimental drug that helps people who have Fragile X syndrome is raising hopes of a treatment for autism.

The drug, called arbaclofen, made people with Fragile X less likely to avoid social interactions, according to a study in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers suspect it might do the same for people with autism.

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4:10pm

Tue September 18, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Link Between BPA And Childhood Obesity Is Unclear

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:23 pm

Canned food is a source of BPA exposure, but researchers aren't sure whether it causes childhood obesity. Above, the soup isle at a grocery store in Washington, D.C.
Maggie Starbard NPR

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That's the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn't so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

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1:36pm

Thu August 16, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

CDC Recommends Hepatitis C Testing For All Boomers

Originally published on Thu August 16, 2012 5:19 pm

Listen up, baby boomers. The government wants every one of you to get tested for the hepatitis C virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a sweeping recommendation official amid growing concern about the estimated 2 million boomers infected with the virus, which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. The advice was published in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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4:11pm

Tue August 14, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Exposed Nearby City To Little Radiation

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 4:15 pm

Care managers tend elderly people in March 2012 in Minamisoma, Japan. The home's residents were evacuated eight days after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station was crippled by the March 11, 2011 tsunami.
Koji Sasahara AP

After a tsunami disabled the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March of 2011, residents of the nearby city of Minamisoma, just 14 miles from the plant, were evacuated.

But within a few months, most returned to their homes. Still, many communities near the plant have remained skeptical and concerned about possible radiation exposure.

To find out how much radiation exposure these people have received, Japanese researchers measured levels of radioactive cesium in nearly 10,000 residents starting six months after the incident.

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2:32am

Tue August 14, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

How A Virus In Snakes Could Offer Clues To Ebola In Humans

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 12:55 pm

A newly discovered disease in boa constrictors could provide the missing link in the latent Ebola virus.
iStockphoto.com

Scientists have found a surprising link between deadly Ebola virus and a disease that's been killing boa constrictors in zoos and aquariums.

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3:36pm

Tue August 7, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Scientists See Progress In Alzheimer's Despite Growing List of Drug Failures

A PET scan of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease.
U.S. National Institute on Aging via Wikimedia Commons

Another once-promising Alzheimer's drug has just been tossed on the pharmaceutical scrap heap.

This time it's a drug called bapineuzumab. Like several previous experimental drugs, it was designed to attack the plaques that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

And like those earlier drugs, it failed.

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3:50pm

Mon July 30, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Legal Battle Erupts Over Whose Plastic Consumers Should Trust

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 4:46 pm

CamelBak-brand water bottles on display at an outdoor supply store in Arcadia, Calif., in 2008. The company removed BPA from the plastic in its bottles.
David McNew Getty Images

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.

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3:47pm

Thu July 19, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

How You Move Your Arm Says Something About Who You Are

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 12:47 pm

Researchers studying brains want to know what's happening in an area called the premotor cortex — the place in the brain that gears up for something the body is about to do, like swimming. Above, Michael Phelps dives off the starting blocks in the final heat of the men's 400-meter individual medley during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., on June 25.
Jamie Squire Getty Images

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.

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12:54pm

Tue July 17, 2012
The Salt

FDA Bans Chemical BPA From Sippy Cups And Baby Bottles

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 2:04 pm

FDA makes it official, banning the chemical BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups.
Fabrizio Balestrieri iStockphoto.com

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.

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3:25pm

Wed July 11, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Gene Mutation Offers Clue For Drugs To Stave Off Alzheimer's

Originally published on Thu July 12, 2012 4:03 pm

A PET scan of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease.
U.S. National Institute on Aging via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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4:34pm

Mon July 2, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

A Parasite Carried By Cats Could Increase Suicide Risk

Originally published on Wed July 4, 2012 3:31 am

What's the link between cats and madness?
Hans Martens iStockphoto.com

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.

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