Headline Jan 21, 2015/ ''' THE SATS ''' - OR- ''' BRAIN SCAN? '''

''' THE SATS ''' - OR- 

''' BRAIN SCAN? '''

HOW ABOUT JUDGING the prospects of the  students some day with a brain scan  instead of the  SATs?

Brain scientists have come a long way since the early-19th century, when they had to wait until patients died so that they could dissect their heads.

French physician Pierre Broca used this method on brain of injured people who had lost their ability to speak; they all suffered damage,  he discovered, to a patch of tissue along the left side known as Broca's area.

A century later, scientists began injecting living patients with radioactive chemicals that flagged active portions of the brain   -a technique called positron emission tomography, or PET.
Because the chemicals took  20 minutes or so to make their way up through the arteries in the neck to the brain,  PET could only give scientists a blurry picture. It was awful. But it was all there was.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, invented at about the same time as PET, was potentially a whole lot faster, largely because it uses a different kind of physics. 

To catch an individual's brain in midthought,  ''Brain Student''  Joy Hirsch invented statistical tools that let her-

Pick out the busy neurons and and ignore the brain's ordinary background noise. Then she incorporated these techniques into  software  that interprets the MRI data.

Working with neurosurgeons at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the mid-1990s, she began to map the brains of surgical patients who had been told their tumors were inoperable.

At Columbia, Hirsch has even more powerful equipment that is helping her push MRI technology further. She's using a roomful of supercomputers to heretofore hidden links between different brain regions.

She's is also combining MRI scans, which tell you where brain activity is taking place, with data taken from electrodes placed on the patient's scalp, which can discern brain events as brief as thousandth of a second.

One of Hirsch's immediate goals is to help surgeons with more ambitious brain operations.

Epilepsy, for example, is often caused by a tiny clump of misbehaving neurons, which are currently impossible to track without opening up a patient's skull.

In 2002, Hirsch succeeded in watching the birth of a seizure with her scanner, ''Knowing where seizures start is key information,'' she says.

If surgeons could pinpoint  rogue neurons, they might be able to destroy them while sparing the surrounding brain.

A bigger ambition is, as she puts it, to uncover  ''those qualities that makes us human.'' Each action or thought - from speaking to feeling in love or adding numbers - brings into play a distinct constellation of brain regions.

These networks, scientists have found, are pretty much the same from one person to another, but observing them requires analyzing individual patients as they perform for scientists.  

By scanning people while they speak, Hirsch has mapped the brain network that generates language. One of the nodes, not surprisingly, is located in Broca's area.

When Hirsch scanned people speaking a second language, she found that they use an identical network  -except for one crucial node id Broca's area that shift's a few millimeters away.

''Somehow the network is switching back and forth between those areas when calling up on those language skills,'' she says.

Understanding these networks promises to put psychiatry on a new footing. Depression, for example may come from a defect somewhere in the network that attaches emotional values to specific experiences.

If scientists can zero in on the damaged nodes, they may be able to help find more effective medications.''We don't have a well-thought rhyme or reason for why we use a drug for particular conditions,'' says Hirsch.

''Doctors and patients have to go through a long trial-and-error process before they find a drug that works for them.'' Scanning people's brains may make the process less random.

If Hirsch and others can make neuroimaging simultaneously more powerful and less expensive, it stands to become a bigger part of our lives.   

Antonio Damasio, head of neurology at  University of Iowa Medical School and a World Economic Forum fellow, thinks it might lead to neural prostheses that compensate for damage to the brain. 

So,  Brain Student Joy Hirsch hopes that brain imaging will reveal the ''qualities that make us human''.

The Honour and Serving of this  ''operational research''  continues. Thank you for reading and see Ya all on the following one.

Don't miss it!

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' All Brain Students '''

'''Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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