It's Brain Awareness Week. Given the nature of this blog, I feel it's fitting I make sure everyone is aware of this and that I devote some time to sharing some of the things I've learned. The logo to the left which I will leave up all week, takes you to The Dana Foundation website where they are promoting all sorts of activities.
The brain, I might argue, is the most important organ in the human body. For the most part, it regulates the rest of our body. It's also the least understood of all of the organs.
Here's a quick recap and a basic primer on what I think I've learned since I've begun digging into my own brain. The key word in that sentence: THINK. I'm no brain surgeon. I'm just trying to understand what the hell is going on so I can throw some scattered thoughts into the brains of the researchers. I am leaving the hard part in their hands. Here's the mess, can you fix it?
Let's start with a diagram... it's colorful and I have NO IDEA what it all means, but I like it:
Now, the things I've found to be most important. Myelin, Neurogenesis, Neuroplasticity.
As information zig-zags through our brains, it is the myelin sheath that keeps everything slippery. If our brains are well oiled machines, the myelin is the oil. It's what allows the zigging and the zagging to occur seamlessly. When the oil breaks down, we get ruts. Messages may get stuck. At least, that's the way I understand this whole concept. Mark Noble in Rochester, NY observed the late onset damage to myelin caused by one chemotherapy drug: 5FU. It is in need of a tune up, a repair, something..... and there is an organization that is attempting to find ways to reverse this damage. The Myelin Repair Foundation funds research specific to multiple sclerosis but I fervently believe that any brain breakthroughs are going to translate across many different diseases.
Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells. Most of this happens before birth and throughout childhood. There is a limited amount of new brain cells that can be created in an adult brain. Typically, this occurs in the area of the brain where memories are formed and stored. If there is damage to that area of the brain from other chemotherapy drugs, there may be a problem with creation of new cells and trickling down from there, a memory issue.
This leads me to neuroplasticity. Until a few years ago, it was thought that an adult brain was sort of cemented. The pathways that our brains use to do various things were believed to be fixed and unchangeable. Not so fast. If paths are broken or blocked, neuroplasticity may be a way around those broken paths, a way of forging new paths. What Is Neuroplasticity? is a website that was designed by someone who did lots of homework. This is NOT a medical site, indeed I have no idea who designed the site or provided the information. I only know this was the easiest explanation I could find. And, the links provided are to well-respected researchers. It seems neuroplasticity is my best shot at real resolution of the mess in my head. No more "work around" solutions.
And finally, there is Coursera. And my quite lofty goal of actually starting and completing this online class. Perhaps we should start a betting pool. The blog pool. I can't see how I get through this thing if I can't wrap my brain around my own brain... but..... I'm giving it a shot. It starts on March 31st. Runs for 9 weeks. I'm counting on you to nag me through it.