A permenent device for deep brain stimulation (green with yellow tip) is implanted deep in the brains of Parkinson's disease patients. (Credit: Coralie de Hemptinne, UCSF)
There are hundreds of brain diseases and disorders, ranging from developmental disorders such as dyslexia and autism to traumatic brain injuries and addiction; from psychiatric disorders such a bipolar and schizophrenia to neurological and degenerative disorders such as epilepsy, stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis to cancer. Together, they pose an enormous burden for society and the healthcare system. Indeed, many of them are still impossible to prevent, treat or cure.
This burden was recognized by President Obama when he launched the U.S. Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative (See "Brain Initiative") in 2013. The goal is to develop powerful new brain research tools that will help scientists understand how normal brain function and how this breaks down, and ultimately lead to much-needed treatments. Some of these new tools are already here. Advances in genetics allow us to pinpoint the genetic glitches that cause certain disorders, and engineers have created implantable devices that stimulate the brain and alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and depression. And connections are increasing between psychiatry, and clinical and basic neuroscience, which is likely to accelerate progress toward better treatment and management of brain diseases and disorders in the coming decades.
Researchers are beginning to decipher what exactly happens in our brains when we are making decisions. Three experts in the field describe the genesis of this cutting-edge field and how it evolved to incorporate several disciplines, as well as current driving questions and potential practical applications of this research.
Susan G. Amara, President of the Society for Neuroscience, responds in-depth to questions about Brainfacts.org, the Society's anticipated new public website about brain research, and how SfN’s own efforts at outreach have evolved since its inception.
Armed with new imaging methods such as two-photon microscopy, Tobias Bonhoeffer, director of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsreid, Germany, is a leading researcher on how the brain adapts to its environment.
Whether engaged in a chess game or something less obvious, the brain is constantly thinking. Daniel Wolpert, a professor of engineering at the University of Cambridge, admits that a game of chess is an excellent demonstration of the brain at work.
Among the vast store of memories we carry around in our heads, there is a large and crucial collection of maps. Most of these have little to do with geography in the usual sense; they’re more like road maps to our everyday surroundings.