It’s not long now until Brain Awareness Day. Co-ordinated by the Dana Initiative, Brain Awareness Day is designed to promote public awareness of the importance of research into the human brain. Every year, a little more progress is made, so this day is also about acknowledging milestones we’ve passed and discoveries we’re working towards.
WHY IS BRAIN RESEARCH IMPORTANT?
Even though all of us are walking around with one right inside our own skulls, we understand more about the surface of Mars than we do about the workings of the human brain. While we’re aware of the broad mechanics of the brain, its more intricate mysteries are labyrinthine. Even with the wonders of modern technology at our disposal, unravelling them all is likely to take centuries.
It sounds pretty daunting – but the good news is that there are a lot of amazing organisations out there working to increase and improve our knowledge of how the brain works. And, the more research we do into the brain, the faster our understanding will grow. Every year there are major new advances made which, even if they don’t completely unlock the brain’s secrets, can help out enormously in the treatment of people suffering from brain injury and mental illness.
It’s through persistent and dedicated research into the brain that we will, eventually, learn how to cure its many ailments, and find promising new therapies for mental illnesses. As counsellors, we’re naturally very interested in any kind of research which will help us to better treat our clients. Research into the human brain is one of the most important things going on in the world right now.
WHAT HAVE RESEARCHERS DISCOVERED ABOUT THE BRAIN?
Here are some examples of breakthroughs we’ve made while researching the human brain:
• Beta-Amyloid testing for Alzheimers. While studying mouse brains, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine noticed that build-up of a substance called beta-amyloid, which attaches itself to brain cells, caused brain cells to start dying off at greater speed than usual. These beta-amyloid plaques are now heavily implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Testing for beta-amyloid enables us to catch the Alzheimer’s in its early stages, and it’s hoped that knowing more about how the disease develops will help us to defeat it in the future.
• Huge advances in the treatment of brain cancer. A drug called Avastin has made the treatment of a kind of brain tumour called a Glioblastoma 65% more effective than it used to be. Before Avastin, Glioblastoma patients only had a 5% survival rate. Now, that rate has shot up to 70%. Incredible!
• Magnesium Sulphate could save stroke victims. Researchers in California are developing an emergency treatment for stroke victims, involving magnesium sulphate. There’s evidence that magnesium sulphate could help to improve circulation within the brain, preventing the kind of cell death which makes stroke patients so ill.
• Greater understanding of the Hippocampus. The Hippocampus is an area of the brain we’re learning more about every day. Which is a good thing, as it turns out that the Hippocampus is pretty important. Scientists in Hong Kong have discovered that the Hippocampus helps to synchronise your brain. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine have learned that the Hippocampus plays a crucial role in imagination and creative problem-solving.
• Reading thoughts. While this technology has yet to reach sci-fi levels of sophistication, what we’ve achieved so far is still pretty impressive. Using brain scanners, scientists can now understand ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers thought by subjects in response to questions. In 2010, scientists for the first time were able to communicate with a man in a persistent vegetative state using this technology.
• Moving things with thoughts. Using special brain-scanning interfaces, doctors can now enable people with limb paralysis to trigger switches with their thoughts. While we’re a long way from mind-controlled exoskeletons and the like, this technology does enable severely paralysed people to communicate and control things like televisions and computers more effectively.
WHY IS BRAIN AWARENESS IMPORTANT?
There are many reasons why it’s important to be aware of the research we as a species are doing into the human brain. One is simply that we’re discovering some pretty amazing things, and it’s great to be able to share that with other people! Another is that it’s good for people to know a bit more about the incredible but little-understood organ inside their heads. If you’re aware, for example, that (as researchers discovered recently) dancing the tango can reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease – well, that could be a really positive piece of knowledge for anyone you know with that disease.
One a more mercenary level, however, public interest and public donations are what keep great research projects going. If public awareness of brain research dies out, so will public interest in that research. As interest dwindles, so will funds. So, initiatives like Brain Awareness Day are vital to keep that all-important research at the top of people’s lists!
CAN BRAIN RESEARCH HELP ME?
Yes, almost certainly. Even if you’re not suffering from any kind of brain disease or mental health disorder, research into the brain can still help you. The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about humanity itself. Brain research is the way we’ll crack humanity’s code, enabling us to be healthier, happier, and generally better at life! That’s good for everyone.
If you are struggling with mental illness, it’s reassuring to know that we’re learning more and more every day about what causes and what can help defeat these illnesses. In the meantime, however, it’s important to seek help from an accredited counsellor. While they may not be able to read your mind, they can help you to read your own mind more effectively. Check out our website for more information on counselling, how counselling can help you, and how to find a good counsellor in your area.