The brain remains the last great frontier of scientific exploration, the very thing that allows for humans to function in a variety of ways: from breathing, to movement, to experiencing love, to memory. Yet, scientists are just now standing at the precipice of understanding it.
A global public-private effort was initiated in 2013. Called the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, the collaborative development of experimental tools is helping to revolutionize the understanding of the brain, by “applying tools to precisely map and observe brain circuits.”
What researchers have discovered thus far is that the three-pound organ is the most complex part of the human body.
“While most of the information processing in the brain occurs in the cerebral cortex, scientists have identified hundreds of unique and specialized areas of the brain that work together — much like a committee of experts — to help us function our entire lives,” according to the BRAIN Initiative website. “Our ability to better treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders depends on our ability to advance our understanding of how the brain functions in both health and disease.”
This can prove particularly helpful when people experience any kind of trauma to the brain, which can occur any number of ways – vehicle accidents, domestic violence, war, participation in athletics or even traversing icy sidewalks.
Those that survive can face any number of struggles, and life-altering consequences, including the inability to walk, years of pain and physical therapy, headaches, trouble sleeping, and the list goes on.
Anyone who has ever faced and overcome the mountain of pain and complications knows that survival with sanity boils down to resilience and makes apparent an inner fortitude. Humans are stronger than they think, it sometimes takes a catastrophic accident for them to realize it.
After those initial months or years of struggle, there can be a whole new wave of issues. It is one of the unsettling truths of brain injury: just when you think you have adapted, other struggles appear.
These chronic complications can literally surface many years after the initial injury. Such is the peculiar nature of the brain, and the unique chemistry that allows it to function.
With knowledge comes power and in this case, scientists are developing an understanding of traumatic brain injury that could inspire a new treatment to prevent chronic complications.
“Researchers have identified a specific molecule in a part of the brain called the thalamus that plays a key role in secondary effects of traumatic brain injury, such as sleep disruption, epileptic activity, and inflammation. They also showed that an antibody treatment could prevent the development of these negative outcomes,” according to findings recently published in Science Daily.
As Jeanne Paz, PhD and associate investigator at Gladstone Institutes notes, there are currently no therapies in existence that prevent the disabilities which can develop after a brain trauma.
“So, understanding how the traumatic brain injury affects the brain, especially in the long term, is a really important gap in research that could help develop new and better treatment options,” she said.
Paz and her team helped close that gap by identifying a specific molecule in the thalamus that plays a “key role in secondary effects of brain injury such as sleep disruption, epileptic activity, and inflammation.”
The team showed that an antibody treatment could prevent the development of such negative outcomes with the help of scientists at Annexon Biosciences, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company.
“Traumatic brain injury affects 69 million people around the world annually, and is the leading cause of death in children and a major source of disability in adults,” according to Science Daily.
As Dr. Story Landis Emeritus Scientist for the National Institute of Health noted: “The human brain is the most complicated organ in the body – probably the most complicated, calculated machine that we know of.”