Cancer Commons Community Member Spotlight: Nancy Kanwisher


Ask MIT Neuroscientist Dr. Nancy Kanwisher what the most fascinating discovery about the human brain is in her eyes; she’ll tell you there’s a part of our brain that is selectively turned on only when we’re thinking about what other people are thinking about us. Though it was Dr. Kanwisher’s student and now colleague who made this discovery, she considers it the “coolest” of discoveries about how various areas or regions of our brains contribute to our perception of the world.

Dr. Kanwisher is a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology and PhD in brain and cognitive sciences. At MIT, Dr. Kanwisher uses brain imaging and behavioral testing to understand the mechanisms that underline the human experience. She says that in 1981, while working as a psychologist and studying for her PhD, she read an article about brain imaging, and was hooked on learning more and uncovering the magnificent mystery of the human brain.

Revealing her enthusiasm for cognitive sciences to her students, Dr. Kanwisher once shaved her head while lecturing on neuroanatomy, so that they might visualize the concepts surrounding the brain’s functional regions. When she learned that she needed chemo to treat her own cancer and would lose her hair, she thought “what an opportunity.” She hired a film crew to made a video of the lesson. Here’s the link to the movie: http://nancysbraintalks.mit.edu/video/neuroanatomy-lesson.

Dr. Kanwisher’s connection to Cancer Commons is personal. Her cancer journey and the information, insights and care she received from Cancer Commons’ experts, from diagnosis to remission, inspired her to join this community of givers. Her connection to Cancer Commons dates back eight years, when Cancer Commons Founder Marty Tenenbaum shared experts’ knowledge with two of Dr. Kanwisher’s closest friends. When she was diagnosed 2 ½ years ago with lymphoma, “Marty was just amazing. He stood by during testing and five hours after the diagnosis came in, he found,” she said, “the world’s expert in that very rare cancer who validated the treatment.” Dr. Kanwisher tells us she’s cured, “having benefited from Marty’s connections and advice.”

We’re extremely grateful to Dr. Kanwisher for her support of Cancer Commons, and for her recovery. We hope her story inspires you to join the Cancer Commons family and her in contributing to better treatment options for all.

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