2013 is poised to be a landmark year for brain research. The last few years have brought brain injury to the forefront of public discussion as countless soldiers have returned home with traumatic brain injury and/or post-traumatic brain injury. Those unaware of the plight of our veterans have likely instead watched as TBI has very publicly rocked the National Football League.
All of the controversy and discourse has been building up to something, and from the very outset, this year appears to be the year of historical significance for brain research of all kinds. It all started with the discovery of a way to potentially diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy in living people. The condition, a permanent neurodegenerative disorder caused by repeated concussions or brain injuries, has symptoms similar of Alzheimer’s and has been well documented in autopsies of boxers and football players, but until this study, was only able to be discovered after death.
The ability to diagnose CTE in living people has huge implications for the scientific community and sports alike. If the method is proven to be effective, it will be a major leap towards allowing doctors to map out the progression of the injury over time in relation to hits to the head, as well as giving insight as to how to best prevent the condition. The NFL, on the other hand, will finally have a clear idea just how many active and former players have suffered permanent brain damage from the game. For now, the NFL is dealing with numerous lawsuits related to players and their families claiming the league didn’t do enough to prevent brain injury. They are also drafting new regulation to improve player safety immediately, as well as investing heavily in brain injury research.
Another brain research product was announced by President Obama this year during the State of the Union address, and it holds much wider implications and could be even more significant for humanity as a whole. The Brain Activity Map (BAM) Project is on par with the Human Genome Project, in that while the HGP project aimed to map our DNA, the BAM Project hopes to map the entire human brain.
During his State of the Union address, the POTUS said, “Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar. Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”
Barry Eitel from AllVoices.com says the project won’t yield results for around ten years, and requires involvement from federal agencies, private foundations, and a huge number of researches and scientists, but the huge project could be Obama’s signature contribution to science, much in the way President Kennedy will always be remembered for his efforts to send man to the moon.
While the detection of CTE in the living brain will effect tons of researchers working on traumatic brain injury, the BAM Project will hold benefits for every scientist alive studying the human brain, and many others. There are opportunities to finally unravel the mysteries of Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and numerous other conditions plaguing living people, and would also drive our economy upwards while it’s at it.
We are only two months in to the year, and so far 2013 has given brain science more than it could have expected. With the number of researchers working around the clock and across the globe, we can only expect to see more huge announcements before the year ends. We won’t cure brain disorders by next year, but if this year is any indication, we are certainly making some big strides towards treatment.