Sixty years ago, the Nobel laureate Santiago Ramon y Cajal stated that "in the adult brain, nervous pathways are fixed and immutable; everything may die, nothing may be regenerated." Cajal's influence has been legendaryand conventional wisdom still holds that the human brain cannot repair itself. Today, however, remarkable discoveries from laboratories around the world offer a much more optimistic prognosis. In Brain Repair, three internationally renowned neuroscientists team up to offer an intriguing and up-to-the-minute introduction to the explosive advances being made in the research, technology, and treatment of brain damage.
The key to neuroscience's most exciting discoveries to date is a theory that is rapidly gaining adherents in the scientific communitythe theory of neuroplasticity. Unlike the prevalent notion that mental processeslike seeing, remembering, and speakingtake place only within highly specialized brain regions made up of irreplaceable and non-regenerating cells, neuroplasticity stresses that cells throughout the brain can not only regenerate, but can adapt their function to assume critical roles once performed by damaged tissue. In clear, accessible language, the authors show us that the brain manufactures a host of complex chemicals that actually foster growth in damaged brain cells. We visit the laboratories where researchers are untangling the mystery of Parkinson's disease and trying to understand what goes wrong in stroke victims, and why some, thought permanently impaired, show remarkable improvements. In addition, they discuss how even today misguided ideas can adversely affect how physicians treat patientsfor example, they describe common drug treatments given to stroke and head trauma patients that can actually worsen the effects of brain damage. And, along the way, they detail the fascinating history of how brain structure and functioning has been understood and studied, from prehistoric times to the present.
Over a half million people each year suffer brain-damaging injuries and diseasesbut the outlook for their eventual recovery is far more hopeful than it was just a short while ago. A best-selling volume in France and Mexico, Brain Repair provides a vividly written, wide-ranging look at the leading edge of one of science's most exciting frontiers.