Neuroscience has become a buzz word in recent times, frequently making the headline for all manner of discoveries. The buzz is justified. Unlike most major fields of science, neuroscience was pretty much just a baby as little as two decades. Not now though, there are literally a whole slew of research breakthroughs happening each year, which makes neuroscience a seriously hot topic. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this emerging field of discovery is genuinely amazing.
The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. We have around 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons our brain, which is more than all the stars in our galaxy. If each of those neurons were laid end to end, they could be wrapped around the Earth twice over. What’s more, a single neuron can be directly connected with up to 10,000 others. This gives rise to a staggering 100 trillion or more nerve connections. Even though computer intelligence is rising rapidly, it still pales in comparison to complexity of our grey matter.
Though ultimately, it’s what the brain can do, that makes it truly remarkable. It’s the only thing known to be capable of producing the kind of higher consciousness associated with human ingenuity. It’s also an entity which can structurally rewire and adapt according to environmental or physiological stimuli - all on its own.
Without doubt there are huge opportunities to unravel the mind’s deep secrets, which could help answer an almost endless number of mysteries surrounding how it works. At biological level, there are myriads of questions to answer in terms of how clusters of brain cells firing across neural networks to regulate the body’s systems and produce complex behavior. At a philosophical level, it even holds promise for figuring out the nature of existence and life itself. As far as answering big questions goes, neuroscience is the mother of all sciences.
Tremendous advances in neuroscience have occurred in the past two decades, with the 2010s being coined called ‘the decade of the brain’. Just in 2017 a whole slew of advances were made. Unlike other industries, there is a progressive culture of worldwide collaborations and even open source approaches like the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Neuroscience is providing a role model for scientific discovery. At the other end of the spectrum are institutes like DARPA, who are investing heavily into neuroscience to develop emergent technologies for use by the military.
In 2016 the global neuroscience market size was valued at USD 28.42 billion, which has been forecast to grow rapidly in the next few years and beyond. This is mirrored by a rapid rise in total neuroscience research, with China becoming a major player pressuring the US into an arms race of the brain. Investment initiatives around the globe such as Obama’s Brain Initiative mean we can expect to see scores of research breakthroughs on the horizon that will outpace any other scientific domain.
Even neuroscience technologies that have been around for years are seriously sophisticated. Take MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for example, this machine uses electromagnetic waves to set the body’s atoms into a state of quantum superposition, then snap them in and out repeatedly to releases energy signatures, revealing a map of what cells are doing in real-time.
Today’s technologies almost seem like science fiction, such as using lasers to perform precision deep-brain surgery, or optogenetics to control specific genetically altered cells. Then venturing into almost Borg-like technologies are direct connections between the brain and machines – known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These are already allowing paralyzed patients to perform tasks such as turn thoughts into email or move a hand to hold a loved one.
Though we don’t automatically think of neuroscience when it comes to our well-being, neurotechnologies look set to revolutionize the healthcare industry. These include innovations such as electroceuticals to regulate nerve signals, neuroregeneration to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, genomic sequencing to provide personalized solutions for neurologic disorders, and even genome editing to prevent cognitive related diseases.
While traditional medicine and surgery has had major success in improving the health of our bodies, neuroscience represents a panacea for curing diseases related to the mind and central nervous system. With life expectancies climbing worldwide, treating health at the level of the brain will becoming increasingly important to global human wellbeing.
The brain has amazing levels of neuroplasticity. An astounding piece of evidence for this is an operation called a hemispherectomy, which baffles neuroscientists even today. It’s needed in life-threatening conditions such as severe epilepsy, where literally half of a person’s brain has to be cut out. In theory, this should be devastating because each half of the brain manages very different functions, such as controlling one side of the body. However, up until teenage years, when half of the brain is removed, the other half has the capability to rewire itself into a whole new left-right brain!
This neuroplasticity means that training interventions like NeuroTracker hold promise for optimizing brain functions to improve real-world performance. For instance, NeuroTracker training was shown to improve decision-making accuracy in competitive soccer play by 15%. Add to the mix Neurofeedback technologies such as EEGs, and the benefits of such interventions can be amplified to provide highly efficient mental conditioning.
Outside of neuroplasticity, there is also growing interest in amping up the brain’s activity directly, such as with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which temporarily shuts certain brain regions to allow other regions to go into overdrive. Or, as DARPA has been investigating, zapping the brain with electrical currents to improve concentration and focus. Even endurance athletes have been using this technique to increase pain resilience.
All-in-all neuroscience is not just an exciting domain of research, but a whole field of innovations that will likely change the ways we live our lives for the better. If you’d like to get more insights why, check out our related blogs.
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