If you’re interested in strange stories involving brain tumors, fecal bacterium, and Institutional Review Boards, Emily Eakin’s “Bacteria on the Brain” for the New Yorker should be right up your alley.
Dr. Paul Muizelaar, then chair of the neurosurgery department at U.C. Davis, undertook a daring approach to treating brain tumors. It might work, but would it help?
The previous month, he had operated on Patrick Egan, a fifty-six-year-old real-estate broker, who also suffered from glioblastoma. Egan was a friend of Muizelaar’s, and, like Terri Bradley, he had exhausted the standard therapies for the disease. The tumor had spread to his brain stem and was shortly expected to kill him. Muizelaar cut out as much of the tumor as possible. But before he replaced the “bone flap” — the section of skull that is removed to allow access to the brain — he soaked it for an hour in a solution teeming with Enterobacter aerogenes, a common fecal bacterium. Then he reattached it to Egan’s skull, using tiny metal plates and screws. Muizelaar hoped that inside Egan’s brain an infection was brewing.
Oh, have plans this weekend? Cancel them. There are neurons to build and Axon will help you build them. I think zombies might like this game, too, because it’s all about brainzzz.
(via Noah Gray)
Using brain scanning equipment and a cleverly designed interrogation technique, scientists have been able to ask questions of so-called vegetative patients; one of them even answered yes or no questions:
Several times when Subject 23 was asked to imagine playing tennis, Monti said, the region of the brain most closely associated with complex motor planning became highly active, and stayed active for 30 seconds after researchers prompted such imagery by saying “tennis.”
Similarly, when researchers asked the patient to imagine walking through the house where he grew up and then said the word “navigate,” Subject No. 23 responded with bursts of activity in the region of the brain involved in constructing and navigating a mental map.
The young, French-speaking man was the only subject who was then trained to answer simple yes or no questions — whether his father’s name was Paul (yes) or Alexander (no), whether he had siblings and how many — using the imagery technique he had already learned.
Checking the patient’s responses for accuracy and comparing them to the yes-no brain responses of a group of healthy volunteers, researchers discerned that Subject No. 23 was not only still “in there,” but capable of purposeful thought and communication.
Alison Gopnik and Jonah Lehrer take a look at how babies’ brains develop.
Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults. She compares the experience of being a baby with that of watching a riveting movie, or being a tourist in a foreign city, where even the most mundane activities seem new and exciting. “For a baby, every day is like going to Paris for the first time,” Gopnik says. “Just go for a walk with a 2-year-old. You’ll quickly realize that they’re seeing things you don’t even notice.”