Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Game your brain: the new benefits of neuroplasticity Part three

This is the third part of an article I am writing about.  “Last year, Gazzaley cofounded a company called Akili Interactive Labs, which is developing an upgrade of NeuroRacer called Evo.  Like Posit Science, Akili is seeking FDA approval for EVO as a possible software-based treatment for ADHD. ‘Most people associate medicine with drugs, and that’s the result of a big, successful brainwashing campaign by pharma companies,’ Gazzaley says. ‘But when it comes to brain health, drugs don’t work very well- - and the drug companies know that. If you look across the world’s top – ten pharma companies, four have withdrawn research from neuroscience.  That’s not because we’ve cured any of these diseases. Hopefully now we’ll start thinking of software and hardware as a form of medicine.’  Gazzaley has been preparing to open a new neuroscience laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘We’re going to be able to record real-time EEG data as you play one of our games,’ Gazzaley says.  ‘The challenge won’t just be correlated to your performance, but also directly by neural process in your brain.’ He gives Wired a copy of the November 2013 issue of the scientific journal Nature.  The cover headline is ‘Game Changer’ and the image shows the cartoon of an old balding man driving a car through NeuroRacer’s mountainous roads. ‘Before I’d developed NeuroRacer, I used to give talks to groups of colleagues and present my data on cognitive decline and its mechanisms, and they would love it, find it fascination.  But when I gave talks about it to a public audience of older people, like the American Association of Retired Persons, it was horrifying.  If you give a lot of talks you get good at reading subtle signs in the audience.  Every year at the AGM, I had over a thousand people in the audience, all grey, and at the end of my talk, I could just see them asking ‘Is this it?  Is this the end of the movie?’ There was this feeling like that was not really the right ending.’ He points to the Nature cover. ‘That is the right ending.’” It all sounds promising. It is the right ending if it can rewire the brain so that schizophrenics feel that they are doing better my having participated in sound research.
I will end this article with: “Older adults are often advised to keep their minds sharp, but such advice is so generally as to be useless.  ‘It’s true that we lose abilities as we get older, but I believe that most of that loss is driven by a lack of effort to sustain brain fitness,’ says Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and one of the most-cited scientists in the field of brain plasticity. ‘We’re lazy, we don’t get out of our comfort zones, we stop learning new things.  The fact is that whatever you do, from activities to relationships to thoughts, ultimately enters the brain and affects it.  But we can harness that property of the brain for our own benefit. Ultimately, it’s a message of hope for people.’  The science of neuroplasticity illuminates the dynamic evolution of our brains throughout life, documenting how different experiences can dramatically change it. Its most pertinent insight, however, is that we can take control of such transformation.  Merzenich’s and Gazzaley’s brain training exercises provide us with a tool to do it.  They are a gym for the brain, a place where we can go to strengthen and expand our cognitive capabilities, which, to a very large extent, define who we are and determine what we are capable of.” How far can we go?  Makes me which I was younger and get into a field where the possibilities are endless with the brain.  It is the new frontier. 

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