This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

9Nov/10

What’s it like to slowly lose the ability to speak? A first-person account.

This is an absolutely amazing piece of writing by Tom Lubbock, a long-time journalist and author.  It begins just as he has received some terrible news: he's got a brain tumor, and only has a year or two to live.  Moreover, the tumor is located near a region of his brain that is dedicated to speech production and comprehension (my guess is either Broca's Area or Wernicke's Area ).

True to his nature, Tom decides to keep a journal detailing his experiences during this troubling time.  He touches on thoughts about his own mortality, his relationship with the people around him, and how these relationships change as he slowly loses the ability to communicate.

I'm blown away by how much humanity comes through in this short piece of writing, and I urge you all to check it out.  Maybe we can all take a more appreciative look at our own mental faculties after having seen this man's experience.

via The Guardian

27Oct/10

The phrase “ear worm” may have a very different meaning soon…

So this is a pretty short article, but I couldn't help myself from talking about it.  If you read regularly, you'll know this is because it contains two of my favorite things: lasers and brains (it's actually about brain tumors, which are certainly not one of my favorite things, but pretty amazing nonetheless).

Washington University continues to impress in the world of neurotechnology with a new method for treating inoperable brain tumors.  The need for this basically stems from the fact that, while some tumors exist near the surface of the head and are easy to remove without damaging too many important parts, others exist deep within the brain and aren't touchable without causing  massive damage and causing people to start tasting blue or something like that.

So, how do you get rid of a tumor without physically taking it out of the brain?  Well, the method devised by this team involved using the radiation from a laser to kill the cancerous cells.  This is an understandably delicate process, since it's often difficult to aim for bad cells without taking out some of the good ones, but this method attempts to deal with this problem by placing the laser as close to the tumor as possible.

How does it work?

Graphic rendition of the procedure

Basically, the doctor drills a small hole in the patient's skull (typically about the width of a pencil).  They then use MRI, a technology that allows us to look at the structure of a patient's brain, to locate exactly where the tumor is and snake a tiny laser probe through the hole and into the heart of the tumor.

Once safely nestled in its cancerous cocoon, the doctors activate the laser, which emits a blast of radiation that is just strong enough to kill its immediate surroundings, sparing the healthy tissue nearby.

This sounds incredibly dangerous, but in fact it could be a very useful technique in dealing with an otherwise medical condition.  While we know that the brain is a very delicate organ, it is also very robust, and techniques such as this one allow us to choose our path through the brain and avoid the areas that would do the most damage to the patient.

This technology isn't out in the market yet, but hopefully it'll make it through the refining and approval process soon.  Coming soon to an O.R. near you!

via PhysOrg