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SCI 61 — Exploring the Hidden Connection Between the Immune System, the Brain, and Mental Health

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 6 weeks
Date(s): Apr 15—May 20
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 28
Unit: 1
Tuition: $355
Instructor(s): Bianka Karshikoff
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Apr 15—May 20
6 weeks
Drop By
Apr 28
1 Unit
Bianka Karshikoff
Few people know that our immune system affects how we feel, think, and act. While the main task of the immune system is to protect our body from pathogens, it also acts as a sixth sense, continuously informing the brain about the health of our bodies. Unfortunately, the cross-talk between the immune system and the brain can malfunction during inflammation. Researchers now understand that inflammation is at the core of inexplicable pain, fatigue, depression, and some psychiatric disorders. This course starts with an overview of the immune system and how it is intertwined with other systems of the body such as the nervous and stress system. For instance, it is normal for the brain to respond to inflammation by making us feel tired, achy, and low—a state most people recognize from having a cold—which encourages us to rest and heal. But a malfunctioning immune system can lead to chronic inflammation, triggering depression and other psychiatric disorders. We will learn how life events and stressors can lead to chronic inflammation, and how to promote healthy immune-to-brain communication. By the end of the course, students will understand how inflammation affects the brain, and how diet, relaxation, and other lifestyle choices can help bring the immune system back into balance. Students will also be able to critically evaluate popular scientific and commercial claims of immune enhancement and one-pill-fixes-all approaches to complex diseases such as chronic pain and fatigue.

Bianka Karshikoff, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine

Bianka Karshikoff received a PhD in psychoneuroimmunology from Karolinska Institute, Sweden. In her postdoctoral work at Stanford, she is exploring the significance of low-grade inflammation in chronic pain, using blood biomarker analysis in clinical populations.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.