An “inside” look
The other day I went on an adventure to the Spark Science Center in Calgary to spend some time with out of town guests that had come to visit me. Part of the exhibit included a display about the human brain, including real human brains in all their formaldehyde glory (although this wasn’t SO exciting for me, as I’ve already gotten up close and personal with brain specimens in our anatomy cadaver labs). One of the features of the display was a TED talk video playing on repeat about a very interesting technology that has hit the field of brain research.
Christopher deCharms, a neuroscientist and inventor, has discovered how to harness the power of the fMRI to display information about the brain in action in a different way than it is typically used.
deCharms describes three ways that are typically used to change the brain: the therapist’s couch, pills, and the knife. (I would add intensive therapy with rehabilitation professionals as another way the brain can be changed, but that’s just me). With the advent of this new fMRI technique, deCharms argues that there will be a 4th way: changing the brain from the inside out by being able to visualize what is happening via fMRI data, and then learning how to control the patterns that you can see.
An application described in the video is for the control of chronic pain; by being able to see the patterns formed by the circuitry causing the pain we can control it and hopefully eliminate it. Though the technology is still investigational, there have been successful clinical trials that demonstrate a 44-64 % decrease in pain for chronic pain patients.
Christopher ends with a question: “We are the first generation who will be using this technology, where will we take it?”
As the video ended, my speechie brain was firing. Just imagine the possible ramifications of this technology for the clients we will come in contact with. Imagine if a person with a stutter or apraxia were able to see the brain pathways being activated when they were having difficulty speaking, and then could learn to control those pathways from inside their brain! Though both stuttering and apraxia are multidimensional, complex issues, it is still fascinating to imagine a future where a possible therapy technique would include fMRI time and real time brain training based on live 3-D models of activation patterns. The possibilities would be endless, from clients with hemiplegia to clients with swallowing difficulties!
What do you think? Where would you take this technology if given the opportunity? Leave a comment below!
– Adele Courchesne