Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa and Her New Book, THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine

Donna Jackson Nakazawa – THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN

In her new book, THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, award-winning journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa illuminates the newly understood role of a tiny brain cell called microglia, providing a hopeful examination of how this new science may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of some of our most insidious neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Until recently, microglia—an elusive type of brain cell that is vitally relevant to our everyday lives—has been thought to be merely the brain’s housekeeper, helpfully removing damaged cells. But a recent groundbreaking discovery revealed them to be immune cells capable of Jekyll and Hyde behavior. When overtaxed, microglia can morph into destroyers, spitting out neurotoxins and engulfing synapses in ways that impact a wide range of issues from memory problems and anxiety to depression and Alzheimer’s. Under the right circumstances, however, we may be able to coax microglia back into being angelic healers, able to repair the brain in ways that help alleviate symptoms and hold the promise to one day prevent disease.

Jackson Nakazawa offers up a new understanding of the brain as an immune organ, showing the myriad ways in which microglia link our physical and mental health, and challenging the dogma that body and brain function independently.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes account of this cutting-edge science, THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN also explores the medical implications of these game-changing discoveries, and how scientists are uncovering extraordinary approaches to help calm overactive microglia so that they behave as nature intended: as the angels of the brain, rather than as blind assassins.

Jackson Nakazawa began her investigation with a personal interest—when diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder years ago, she was convinced there was something physical going on in her brain as well as her body, though no doctor she consulted could explain how the two could be interacting in this way. With the compassion born of her own experience, she follows practitioners and patients on the front lines of treatments that help to “reboot” microglia—from gamma light flicker therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation to intermittent fasting to neurofeedback. She witnesses patients finding significant relief from pressing symptoms, offering new hope to the tens of millions who suffer from mental, cognitive, and physical health issues.

Proving once and for all the biological basis for the mind-body connection, the discovery of the true role of microglia stands to rewrite psychiatric and medical texts as we know them. Hailed as “riveting,” “stunning,” and “visionary,” THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN offers us a radically reconceived picture of human health and promises to change everything we thought we knew about how to heal ourselves.


Donna Jackson Nakazawa is the author of three previous books exploring the intersection of neuroscience, immunology, and emotion: Childhood Disrupted, which was a finalist for the 2016 Books for a Better Life award, The Last Best Cure, and The Autoimmune Epidemic. For her written contributions to the field of immunity, she has received the AESKU award and the National Health Information Award, which recognizes the nation’s best magazine articles on health.

Donna Nakazawa has appeared on Today, NPR, NBC News, and ABC News, and her work has appeared in Wired, The Boston Globe, Stat, The Washington Post, Health Affairs, Aeon, More, Parenting, and AARP Magazine, and has been featured on the cover of Parade as well as in Time and USA Today. Jackson Nakazawa has been the recipient of writing-in-residence fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony. She lives with her family in Maryland.

“A fascinating deep dive into the unsung heroes (and villains) inside our skulls ….Donna Jackson Nakazawa has a journalist’s eye for story, a scholar’s understanding of the research, and patient’s appreciation for high the stakes truly are.”

– Susannah Cahalan, New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire

“An inspiring account…will provide a game-changing view of health for generations of researchers, clinicians and citizens for years to come. Bravo!”

–Dan Siegel, MD, Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, author of Mindsight

“Few non-fiction writers can tell the tale of scientific inquiry so vividly the reader can feel the excitement of discovery with every word. Donna Jackson Nakazawa is one of those writers, and this book tells the tale of one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking discoveries in all of medicine.”

–Shannon Brownlee, Senior Vice President of the Lown Institute, author of Overtreated

“[This] is the rarest of books, a combination of page-turning discovery and remarkably readable scientific journalism. A book to both savor and share.”

–Mark Hyman, MD, Director, The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, New York Times bestselling author of Food

“A deft, scientific story about the ‘Cinderella’ cell of the brain, microglia . . . Jackson Nakazawa explains the possible translation of the science into solutions for brain disorders, health and disease.”

— Thomas Insel, MD, Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health 2002 – 2015