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Unlocking Bryson's Brain

Thirteen-year-old Bryson has a rare neurodevelopmental condition. Scientists working at the cutting edge of genetics believe they know what's causing the disease—and think it could be reversed.

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Unlocking Bryson's Brain, a medical mystery podcast, is available wherever you get your podcasts. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

Bryson is a beautiful, happy and loving boy. But a mysterious illness means he can't walk, talk, or feed himself.

After years without a diagnosis, even Bryson's parents have come to accept that he may never be able to live independently.

Then one day, everything changes. Scientists working at the cutting edge of genetics believe they know what's causing Bryson's disease—and think it could be reversed. Motivated by the hope for a cure, Bryson's parents search for the miracle key that could unlock Bryson's brain.

Join Bryson's dad, host Keith McArthur, on their family's journey to understanding their son's rare condition. 

Access the show's full-text transcripts right here.


Episode 1: The Mystery Disease

Meet Bryson's family, left to right: Connor (brother), Laura (mom), Bryson, Keith (dad). (Brian Tao/Luxography)
Bryson seems like a perfectly healthy baby. But soon doctors confirm his parents’ worst fears: something is wrong with Bryson’s brain. Despite dozens of tests over nearly a decade, doctors come up empty in their efforts to find a diagnosis. 53:49


Episode 2: Getting a Diagnosis

Bryson is known for his movie star smile. (Keith McArthur)
From violent seizure-like episodes to insensitive comments from strangers, Bryson has a hard life. But after years of searching, doctors finally provide a diagnosis. The news changes everything for Bryson’s parents and provides a possible path to new treatments — or even a cure. 44:53


Episode 3: The CRISPR Revolution

(Keith McArthur)
Bryson’s parents explore CRISPR, a new technology with the potential to cure dozens of diseases once thought incurable. But gene editing comes with risks — not just for individual patients, but for the human race. 33:29


Episode 4: A New Hope

In this week's episode, we learn of another medical hurdle the family is overcoming, and we meet Stephanie, Keith's sister, (left). (Keith McArthur)
Bryson’s family travels to meet other GRIN1 patients, including Bryson’s GRIN-twin Olivia. And research on mice offers new hope for finding a cure. But a new illness means that the family now needs two medical miracles. 52:55


Episode 5: Making a Mouse

Scientists in Toronto get to work building a mouse with Bryson’s precise genetic variant. Plus, the family travels to Atlanta to provide blood samples for a researcher to create DNA-based “mini-brains” in his lab. Could this cutting edge science provide clues to unlocking Bryson’s brain? 42:51


Episode 6: The Ethics of a Cure

Finding a cure for Bryson no longer seems impossible. And that raises new questions about the ethics of this journey. Bryson’s family seeks out new perspectives and learns why “cure” is a loaded term in the disability rights community. 49:49


Episode 7: Pilgrimage to Boston

Bryson’s parents travel to Boston/Cambridge, the global capital for rare disease research. Their goal: to ask private biotech companies to help in their search for a cure. Scientists provide new clues, but also raise difficult questions. 40:34


Episode 8: Two Futures

After months of waiting, the “Bryson mouse” is finally ready for lab tests that will provide new insights into treatments and cures. And Bryson’s parents explore two possible versions of Bryson’s future. 58:43