Recent technological and scientific advances have fuelled a neuroscientific revolution. Imaging techniques such as those shown above have given us an unprecedented view into the structure and function of our brain.
Phineas Gage is one of the most famous patients in the history of neuroscience. He was 25 years old when he experienced a serious accident at his work place, where a tamping iron was shot through his head - entering under his eye socket at exiting through the top of his head - after an explosive charge went off. The tamping iron was over a metre long, and after exiting Gage’s head landed 25m away.
Initially Gage collapsed and went into minor convlusions, but recovered quickly and was able to speak after a few minutes. He walked with little assistance to an ox-cart and was brought to a nearby physician. Initially the physician did not believe his story because he was in such good condition, but was convinced when:
Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.
Gage exhibited a number of dramatic behavioural changes following the accident. Harlow, the physician who initially treated Gage, described this change “He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires”. However the surgeon Henry Jacob Bigelow described his condition as improving over the course of recovery, stated he was “quite recovered in faculties of body and mind”. This may have been early evidence of neural plasticity. This recovery was also reported by a physician who knew Gage while he lived in Chile, who described his ability to hold on a full time job as a Concord coach driver, a job that required exceptional social skills.
Gage’s neurological deficits following his traumatic brain injury is thought to have been exaggerated and distorted over the course of history, to the point that he is often portrayed as a ‘psychopath’. Scientific analysis of the historical accounts of Gage’s life following his accident, namely by the psychologist Malcolm Macmillan, find that these distorted accounts are most likely untrue, and that Gage made a very good recovery.
Post-mortem analysis of the Gage case concluded that it was the left frontal lobe that was damaged in the accident, although further neurological damage may have resulted from infection. Combined examination of the Phineas Gage case with the other famous cases of Tan and H.M. have concluded that social behaviour, memory, and language are dependent on the co-ordination of a number of different brain areas rather than a single region.
If you’re interested in neuroscience or psychology, I’d highly reccomend any book by Oliver Sacks! I get asked a lot about books to read so you can also check out this video I made with my top 7 and this masterpost which includes websites where you can learn more!
For centuries, physicians have been fascinated by the many manifestations of migraine, and especially by the visual hallucinations or auras- similar in some ways to those induced by hallucinogenic drugs or deliria–which often precede a migraine.
Dr. Sacks describes these hallucinatory constants, and what they reveal about the working of the brain.
Awakenings is the remarkable account of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen in a decades-long sleep, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of these individuals, the stories of their lives, and the extraordinary transformations they underwent with treatment.
3. The Island of The Color Blind
Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands, and this book is an account of his work with an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind. He listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow.
4. Uncle Tungsten
A book about Sacks’ childood;
his discovery of biology, his departure from his childhood love of chemistry and, at age 14, a new understanding that he would become a doctor.
5. An Anthropologist on Mars
This book talks about 7 seemingly paradoxical neurological conditions: including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who has great difficulty deciphering the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior.
6. Seeing Voices
A journey into the world of deaf culture, and the neurological and social underpinnings of the remarkable visual language of the congenitally deaf. Sacks writes “The existence of a visual language, Sign, and the visual intelligence that goes with its acquisition, shows us that the brain is rich in potentials we would scarcely have guessed of, shows us the almost unlimited resource of the human organism when it is faced with the new and must adapt.”
A 5 month old girl with alobar holoprosenceohaly. This condition was diagnosed prenatally in utero and understandably resulted in severe enlargement of the child’s head. The child was oriented to sound, able to move all extremities and responded to external stimuli, however the long term prognosis for this condition is poor as it is typically fatal in the neonatal period.
Neuro chip records brain cell activity at higher resolution
Brain functions are controlled by millions of brain cells. However,
in order to understand how the brain controls functions, such as simple
reflexes or learning and memory, we must be able to record the activity
of large networks and groups of neurons. Conventional methods have
allowed scientists to record the activity of neurons for minutes, but a
new technology, developed by University of Calgary researchers, known as
a bionic hybrid neuro chip, is able to record activity in animal brain
cells for weeks at a much higher resolution. The technological
advancement was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“These chips are 15 times more sensitive than conventional neuro
chips,” says Naweed Syed, PhD, scientific director of the University of
Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Hospital
Research Institute, member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and senior
author on the study. “This allows brain cell signals to be amplified
more easily and to see real time recordings of brain cell activity at a
resolution that has never been achieved before.”
The development of this technology will allow researchers to
investigate and understand in greater depth, in animal models, the
origins of neurological diseases and conditions such as epilepsy, as
well as other cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
“Recording this activity over a long period of time allows you to
see changes that occur over time, in the activity itself,” says Pierre
Wijdenes, a PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program
and the study’s first author. “This helps to understand why certain
neurons form connections with each other and why others won’t.”
The cross-faculty team created the chip to mimic the natural
biological contact between brain cells, essentially tricking the brain
cells into believing that they are connecting with other brain cells. As
a result, the cells immediately connect with the chip, thereby allowing
researchers to view and record the two-way communication that would go
on between two normal functioning brain cells.
“We simulated what Mother Nature does in nature and provided brain
cells with an environment where they feel as if they are at home,” says
Syed. “This has allowed us to increase the sensitivity of our readings
and help neurons build a long-term relationship with our electronic
While the chip is currently used to analyze animal brain cells, this
increased resolution and the ability to make long-term recordings is
bringing the technology one step closer to being effective in the
recording of human brain cell activity.
“Human brain cell signals are smaller and therefore require more
sensitive electronic tools to be designed to pick up the signals,” says
Colin Dalton, adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical and
Computer Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering and a
co-author on this study. Dalton is also the facility manager of the
University of Calgary’s Advanced Micro/nanosystems Integration Facility
(AMIF), where the chips were designed and fabricated.
Researchers hope the technology will one day be used as a tool to
bring personalized therapeutic options to patients facing neurological