Neuroscience is a new field of science that was hardly even known about a generation ago. Today the field has attracted billions of dollars in new financing and masses of researchers. According to the Society of Neuroscience, last year the National Institutes of Health alone spent nearly 20% of its total budget ($5.2 billion) on brain-related projects, and endowments like the Wellcome Trust and the Kavli Foundation have poured in hundreds of millions of dollars more, establishing institutes at universities around the world, including Columbia and Yale.
This injection of money, talent and technology means that scientists are better able, and making real progress at learning more about the brain and how it functions. They are also being constantly astounded by their discoveries, and more questions, both scientific and ethical, are being raised faster than answers can be found.
One example is the discovery of a memory molecule that could make it possible, for instance, for a severely painful memory to be erased. What if, in the process, other personally important memories that could somehow be related were lost? Another question, if a treatment was developed that â€œclearedâ€ the learned habits ofÂ addiction, could that open up the possibility people would want to experiment with other drugs? More importantly, if a drug were developed to strength memory, wouldnâ€™t everyone feel they had to have it?
â€œIn this field we are merely at the foothills of an enormous mountain range,â€ said Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia, â€œand unlike in other areas of science, it is still possible for an individual or small group to make important contributions, without any great expenditure or some enormous lab.â€
Hundreds of researchers are trying to answer a question that has dumbfounded thinkers since the beginning of modern inquiry: â€œHow on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything â€” poems, emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood scenes?â€
As more research is done on understanding the brain and its function, more chapters are opening up in neuroscience to explore. The brain is almost like a new planet, and around every corner there is a new discovery that could aid in helping people in all areas of health â€“ for the brain is the center of our bodies through which all information is gathered, all movement is made, and all functions are processed. It stands to reason then, that the more we learn about our brain and how it works the better opportunities there will be to find cures, or at least how to deal with, mental issues.
This is Ron White, memory training expert, memory speaker and two-time USA Memory Champion. I am excited about the new advances in neuroscience that will help to improve the quality of life for people with dementia, cognitive and memory problems, and look forward to future developments.
New York Times: Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/health/research/06brain.html?pagewanted=all