Promise In Rewiring Of Damaged Brain
November 25, 2001
LINDSAY PETERSON - firstname.lastname@example.org
Memo: Reporter Lindsay Peterson can be reached at (813)
TAMPA - Imagine the brain as a house with many rooms full
of furniture. If the tables and chairs in one room are
destroyed, extra pieces from other rooms can be moved over
to take their place.
But they don't go to the right place by themselves. They
need a smart interior designer.
Researchers are learning more all the time about how the
right therapy can "redesign" the brain of a victim
of stroke or other serious brain damage.
"This is an incredibly exciting time for brain research," says
Donalee Markus, a Chicago brain therapy specialist.
Experts long have known that a baby's damaged brain can
repair itself. The infant brain cells haven't settled into
specific roles, so cells from one area can be recruited
to do the work of a damaged area.
"Genetics gives us the cells, but use tells them
what to do," says Stanley Graven, an authority in
infant development who directs the Lawton and Rhea Chiles
Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies at the University
of South Florida.
This ability to remodel, known as plasticity, distinguishes
the brain from any other organism in the known universe,
says neurologist Richard Restak, author of "The Secret
Life of the Brain," the companion book to a public
television series that starts Jan. 22.
Researchers still don't understand precisely the microscopic
electrical and chemical interactions that remodel the brain.
It's a new area of science, says Edward Taub of the University
of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham VA Medical Center.
Taub has developed a therapy, however, disproving beliefs
that only the young brain can rewire itself.
He restrains the working limbs of stroke victims and uses
intensive, six-hour daily therapy to get the patients to
move disabled arms or legs. Not only have his subjects
regained use of once-useless limbs, but scans also show
growth in areas of their brains devoted to that function.
"This is cutting edge," he says.
Adds Restak: "That rewiring is possible only because
the adult brain retains a good part of the plasticity it
had when it was very immature."
The key is repetition and consistency in therapy, says
neurologist Richard Senelick, medical director of HealthSouth
Rehabilitation Institute of San Antonio.
The problem is that insurers often won't pay for the extended
therapy needed, Senelick says. "People get written
off way too early."
Cutline: "The Secret Life of the Brain," by
Richard Restak, is the companion book to a five-part public
television series set to begin Jan. 22.
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