Saturday, June 22, 2013

BRAIN WAVES: Minding What Matters

  • Neuroscience minds talking June 5/13 at an AAAS ( Capitol Hill luncheon forum titled "Mapping the Brain" provided more details on efforts to decode that  three pound complicated mass of gray matter - those 186 billions of neurons, synapses, circuitry, what have you. Projections call for a 15 year target date to understand more than the rudiments of brain behavior, thanks in large part to the developing world of nanotechnology. (A nanometer, the customary measure in the field, is 50,000th of a hair width, if you dare to imagine it.) There's much to learn, with humility the guide, since isn't the task really the mind studying itself?  The search involves the invention of new tools - even new terms - well beyond very advanced MRI now providing  impressive insights into  the organ's functioning.
  •  We need to learn about the "electrical, chemical, mechanical" elements - "what happens at every moment," in the words of Dr. Michael Lee Roukes, founding director of Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute. He uses the word connectome  for understanding regional processes, spoke of connectivity gates (wiring), and said currently scientists have charted some 1000 out of a possible 50,000 channels. It's new worlds and worlds out there...
  • Curiously, on the humble front, what we might begin to learn at the outset is why anesthesia works. We know how - patients and doctors know the effects - without understanding the intricacies within the brain that allow a person to lose consciousness and withstand pain. Further studies could lead to new treatments for relieving pain and depression. One study has focused on the after effects at different ages of  propofol, according to Dr. Emery Brown, of MIT, and a member of the NIH BRAIN Working Group. In what was almost an aside, he noted work done by Dr. Terri Monk of Duke University showing that up to 13 percent of the elderly (60 and over) have some mild cognitive impairment as long as six months after receiving such drugs in non-cardiac surgery. 

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