brain science

Brain or Bust!

I’m a contrarian. This doesn’t always make it easy for people who work with me.

This article has nothing to do with our core themes of allergy and asthma, but, as a contrarian, I can’t resist sharing this.

We at Exhale are serial contrarians. The gurus said that it can’t be done and therefore does not exist. We measure allergens in your air and show that they do exist. Themes like this infuse the medical community and persist for generations until they are dragged kicking and screaming into reality.

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One example relates to brain damage. For over one hundred years it was taught in medical schools that once you are born, you are stuck with the brain you have. Any damage is indelible. There is no new brain cell growth after birth. You lose it, you’ve lost it. Don’t even think about rehabilitation.

I did a quick search and found a paper from 1973 which said “There is a separate period from 10-18 weeks gestation when adult neuronal cell number may largely be achieved” – Dobbing & Sands, Archives of Diseases of Childhood, volume 48, page 757.

Delving further I found a short letter from 1965 to the editor of Journal of Neurochemistry by W.E.Watson saying that there was new DNA synthesis in injured brain cells in mice – Journal of Neurochemistry, volume 12, page 907. That meant that new brain cells were being formed. There was a complete change in the view of brain plasticity and ability to recover from injury.

Today, we are extremely aware of the damage to brains from repeated concussion – it’s giving football quite a bad reputation. Brain degeneration is instigated by multiple injuries and may indeed proceed to the point where it is irreversible. The damage can be seen by imaging techniques today.

That brings up the subject of Alzheimer’s disease. As this was recognized as a distinct disease, and not just vague effects of aging, diagnosis was extremely difficult, and the only true diagnosis was post mortem, with the discovery of plaque and tangle fibers in the brain. That was originally the only definitive diagnosis. Now with greater experience, it is possible to diagnose it relatively early with measurements of cognitive function.

So here comes the contrarian bit.

Last week, at a Society for Neurosciences meeting in San Diego, there was a presentation by A. Rezvanian of our own Northwestern University on the post mortem analysis of brains for a 90+ year old group selected based on above average performance on tests of memory and preserved performance in other cognitive domains for their age. i.e. above average mental ability for their age. Many of them showed plaque and tangled fibers which would otherwise have resulted in a diagnosis of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors conclude that there may be something going on that protects against the ravages of Alzheimer’s.

The exploration, discoveries and innovations continue! Long live brains and brain science at work! Stay tuned for more breaking updates from the Science Corner.

Julian Gordon

Julian is a world renowned serial inventor who has made groundbreaking contributions to multiple fields of science. His group at Abbott Labs was responsible for developing lateral flow immunoassay technology, which led to the first home pregnancy tests. Prior to Abbott Labs, Julian’s group at Novartis (then CIBA-GEIGY) was responsible for inventing the Western Blot, an important method used today in molecular biology, biochemistry and immunogenetics for the characterization and detection of proteins. As a scientist, Julian is passionate about using evidence-based data to prevent human suffering. As he explains, “I know of no greater suffering than a mother in anguish about her child not being able to breathe normally – and not knowing what to do about it. I feel so fortunate to be part of an incredible team working to solve this problem.
Julian Gordon
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