Neuroscience, the next medical frontier

When I was a freshman medical student, I spent a summer working in the VA psychiatric hospital in west Los Angeles. While there, I spent many hours talking to chronic schizophrenic patients, some from World War II and one even from World War I. I watched electro-shock therapy for psychosis and spent hours listening to the professor there, George Harrington. He was one of the two or three most impressive men I met in medicine. He was convinced that psychosis was an organic disease and had no confidence in psychoanalysis to explain anything to do with psychosis. I was very interested in psychiatry for a while but my exposure to other psychiatrists in medical school soon ended my enthusiasm.

Now, neuroscience is one of the most promising areas in medicine. We have increasing evidence of the anatomy of mental illness. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can now be cured with a surgical interruption of a feedback loop in the brain. Functional MRI can show differences in the response to stimuli between schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic twins.

Now, we are getting to the analysis of normal function. The visual cortex seems to have a map of the retina contained in it. By analyzing the fMRI of the visual cortex in a subject looking at a picture, it has now been possible to reconstruct the image from the fMRI. We can look at the brain in a functional way and read what it is seeing.

The next step, and it is coming fast. is to create a biological-electronic interface. We already have one called the cochlear implant. It is able to restore hearing by stimulating hair cells in the ear. A visual implant would stimulate the optic nerve when the rods and cone cells are lost.

If I were a medical student today, I would be looking very hard at this field. When I was a medical student 46 years ago, I decided that the science of the brain and the immune system were too primitive at the time to have any implication for clinical work. I decided that, if I wanted to go into research, I would be better off as a physical chemist. That was true then but is no longer true.

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8 Responses to “Neuroscience, the next medical frontier”

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  4. doug says:

    Itulip is hosting a youtube clip of Bernie Madoff (Yes, it’s actually pronounced “made off”) discoursing on regulation and how “virtually” impossible it is to have fraud go on very long. Also, the claim is made right up front that their firm executes about 10% of the total stock market volume. Just flippin amazing stuff.

    Bernie comes across as a totally honest, almost avuncular, figure.

    And Bernie defrauded his buddies and charities that trusted him. Unreal. Or rather, real, unlike Gordon Gecko.

  5. I’ve seen some clips of the people who gave him money to manage for them. They sound retarded. I can imagine the temptation for these guys who see such stupid clients. I had a patient one time who was a branch manager for a stock brokerage firm. He kind of enjoyed screwing people which did not help my suspicions of brokers.

  6. allan says:

    Hey, doug, you might enjoy this tidbit then. Turns out a guy named Ezra Merkin was charging his clients in his Ascot fund 1.5% to put all their funds (1.8 bil, or so) into Madoff’s ‘fund of funds’. Of course, you’d have to dig deeply into the prospectus to find that little jewel, but it was mentioned two times, so it was available to know. That he was not doing any actual managing for the 1.5 was bad enough a scam, but guess what Merkin does besides his investment firm? He’s chairman of GMAC Financial Services according to the report I read.

    You wanna know Madoff’s hedge fund’s brilliant strategy? Simply buy S&P 100 companies and then sell calls and buy puts against them. You can figure out how that worked out this year.

  7. doug says:

    Another research avenue that could explore vision and neural connections is that of quadrachromes. These are women that inherit different genes on each X chromosome and provide the ability is some to see color variation in 4 dimensions rather than the normal 3. Looking at differences in processing these signals might provide additional insight.

    Note: Color vision occurs at the most basic level by interpretting 3 signals, each if which has a different spectral response (signal is integral of response and intensity accross wavelength). Quadrachromes have 4 different spectral responses. This would show up similarly to that of colorblindness. Two colored chips that have differing spectral reflectivities will, under a specific light, have identical colors. Yet they would appear as different colors to a quadrachrome. I wonder what this looks like in an MRI?

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