Recent interest in the brain
Although it may appear to be no more than a mass of tissue weighing a mere three pounds, the brain is a remarkable organ. It is critical to our survival. Without the brain, vital functions such as heart rhythms, breathing, and digestion would be impossible. But the brain does so much more. Did you enjoy your last meal? Do you remember the last movie you saw? Did it make you feel happy or sad? Can you trace all the steps you take to get from your house to the nearest convenience store? The brain is what enables us to have sensations, make decisions, and take action. It allows us to learn a whole lifetime of experiences, and gives us the ability for language and abstract thought. In short, the brain makes possible the human condition. But just how does it do it?
Neuroscientists here at RIKEN BSI and all around the world are hard at work looking for the answers. Researchers are studying a whole range of questions, from the basics of how the brain functions, to how the brain grows, to how to simulate brain function with computational devices. Also, they are working on critical public health problems, such as Alzheimer's Disease, and how to prevent and repair damage to the brain.
In recent years, enormous progress has been made in several areas of neuroscience. The following are just a few recent major advances:
Unlike other cells in the body, brain cells generally do not regrow once they are damaged. Recent promising advances in stem cell therapy, however, give hope that scientists will eventually find ways to restore functions lost to brain trauma, degeneration, or even aging.
We know that some neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease can be inherited. Recently, scientists have identified key genes that encode debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's. They have also developed transgenic technologies that allow them to manipulate genes systematically.
Medical science has had tools for viewing the brain for many years now, including MRI and CAT scanning. However, those tools show only the shape of the brain. Now, it is also possible to visualize brain activity as it happens, second by second, to see what parts of the brain are active while people perform different tasks.
Launch Brain Navigator (MRI Demonstration)