The BRAIN Takes Centre Stage

FINALLY, a momentus year for the brain.

Yes the BRAIN is to be recognized and studied for the amazing organ it is. This week Barak Obama announced a project appropriately called BRAIN aimed at discovering, not the mysteries of outer space, but our very own brain.

Earlier in the year the European Union announced an even larger project, the Human Brain Project. As a part of this project they aim to create a realistic simulation of the brain to assist study the brain and find treatments for brain disorders.

What’s this got to do with brain injury?

Think about how we all stand to benefit from these projects:

  • through our own increased knowledge of all things brain related,
  • through the ability of scientists and people involved to collaborate and build shared knowledge
  • and hopefully new treatments and prevention of brain injury and brain disorders.

A short video here explains more about the Human Brain Project, an exciting initiative. It reinforces the complexity of our brain, as scientists explain the need to create a more powerful super-computer, not yet in existence, to be able to mimic the brain.

 

 Why do we need such studies?

Here are a few “Becauses” I can think of – please add any more you think of:

Because we know so little

Despite significant efforts across time, and around the world we still know little about the brain, its function and about brain injury and the many different types of brain disorders such as dementia.

In a report about BRAIN, Stanford School of Medicine  quotes Barak Obama who quipped “As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away. We can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”

Because the brain controls everything we do

The Human Brain Project reminds us about the function and effectiveness of the brain in a powerful statement

“Every human emotion, every human feeling, every human thought, every human decision requires the brain. No other natural or engineered system can match its amazing energy efficiency, or its ability to work reliably for decades on end, to respond creatively to new and unexpected situations, to acquire new information and skills, to understand the actions of other living beings and to communicate through language”

Dr Collins from the USA National Institute of Health explained “The human brain is at the present time the most complicated organ in the known universe…We aim through this ambitious – some would call it audacious – project, to try to unravel those mysteries.”

Because the brain is so complex

Think about just a few facts we know about the “three pounds of matter that sits between our ears”:

  • It is made up of at least 1 billion brain cells (Neurones),
  • Each cell is talking to up to 20,000 other cells (1 billion multiplied by 20,000 – can that number even be imagined!)
  • The cells that are different shapes, lengths, and sizes depending on where they are and what their job is
  • There is a space between each of the cells (a synapse) that the messages have to get across
  • Electrical and chemical means (transmitters) are being relied upon to move the messages through cells, between cells, to and from the brain
  • Millions of messages are constantly received and transmitted by the brain
  • Millions of neurons may need to transmit and receive messages just to enable one function to occur

Doesn’t that sound like an organ so complex, we might never understand it?

It seems a miracle that our brain continues to function at all. Yet imagine how our knowledge of brain injury could improve, as we understood more about this microscopic marvel.

Because the incidence of dementia continues to increase

Significant increases in the number of people with dementia have been projected in studies within Europe, England, USA and Australia. Yet there is no treatment that can halt or that has significant impact on dementia available.

The report “2012 Alzheimers Disease Facts and Figures” provides a resource prepared by the Alzheimers Association (USA) on dementia in the USA. It reports an estimated 50% increase in the number of people with dementia from the year 2000 to 2030. With an escalation in coming years, as large numbers of ‘baby boomers’ reach old age.

The study also suggests a link between repeated brain injury (such as sporting incidents) and dementia, with increased incidence in this group.

Because of the cost to quality of life and budgets

Brain injury and brain disorders affect billions of people worldwide and require billions of dollars each year. See earlier post  Stats without the Rats for further statistics about brain injury.

The Human Brain Project summarises the incidence:

“According to a recent study [1], nearly a third of European citizens are affected by some kind of brain disease, the most frequent being headache (153 million affected every year), anxiety disorders (69 million), sleep disorders (45 million) and mood disorders (33 million). The study estimates the annual cost to the European economy at nearly Eur 800 billion. As European populations age, the number of citizens affected and the associated costs will inevitably grow, potentially to unsustainable levels.”

 Stay Tuned!

What an exciting time for those of us involved, in any way, with brain injury and brain disorders. Two massive studies, billions of dollars and many scientific minds devoted to the brain.

The US study will be called BRAIN or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. Here is an infographic that summarises this project   BRAIN infographic

and if you want to understand more, there is more detailed information on the website for the WhiteHouse

Along with the European Human Brain Project it is hoped this huge commitment will expand our knowledge and provide clues about the prevention and treatment of diseases arising from changes within, or damage to the brain.

And we will ALL learn more about the brain along the way

 

In the Meantime More about the Brain

This website,  Neuroscience for Kids, is useful for understanding more about the brain. Yes I know it says “for kids” but it means the information is simple, fun, colourful, entertaining and there is a lot of it to choose from. I really think it’s a great site to start out with.

 

Please share any other resources you know of that help us understand the brain and its magnificence!

 

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