Brain Research: Reaching New Heights Of Discovery

Photo of man holding someone's brain! It comes as no surprise to most Americans when neuroscientists tell us that our brains shape everything that we are as human beings. Our thoughts and feelings, as well as our physical and mental functions, are governed by this most vital and mysterious of the body's organs.

A fact that does surprise many Americans is the likelihood that each of us will be affected at some point in our lives, either personally or with a family member's struggle, with a neurological disorder.

One of the reasons for this surprise, doctors point out, is that many people do not realize the range of brain-related diseases and disorders. According to the Society for Neuroscience, Alzheimer's disease, addiction, learning disorders, Huntington's disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, depression, and epilepsy are all brain-related diseases or disorders. In all, disorders of the brain and central nervous system affect an estimated 50 million Americans each year.

What We've Learned

Neuroscience researchers have learned more about the workings of the brain in the past decade than they have in the previous century. The advent of brain-imaging, a non-invasive technique that allows scientists to observe the brain in action, has revolutionized neuroscience research, allowing scientists to see firsthand how this complex "computer" controls normal functions and what goes awry in such conditions as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. Other discoveries include:

What's On The Horizon

These are just a few examples of the type of medical breakthroughs that lie ahead:

Despite such extraordinary advances in brain research, brain and central nervous system disorders remain the nation's leading cause of disability, and account for more hospitalizations, and more prolonged care than almost all other diseases combined-costing the United States more than $600 billion a year.

While cancer and heart diseases are the leading causes of death, they affect primarily the middle-aged or elderly, and are generally of short duration relative to life span. By contrast, many brain disorders begin at birth or in early adulthood, and are usually long-lasting. Research that can help prevent, treat, or reverse disorders of the brain will have a tremendous impact on society.

Moreover, brain research is making important strides in understanding the healthy brain, with great promise in maximizing human potential and quality of life for all Americans-from maximizing learning and development for the very young to maintaining memory and intellectual stamina in the elderly.

For more information about the progress that brain researchers are making in unraveling the mysteries of the mind and delivering treatments for neurological disorders affecting millions, visit the Society for Neuroscience's Web site: The site includes a Web page devoted to the Society's "Brain Awareness" campaign, detailing activities nationwide to keep the American public informed about the latest advances in brain research. (NAPSI)

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