The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science

The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science

by R. Douglas Fields Ph.D.


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Despite everything that has been written about the brain, a very important part of this vital organ has been overlooked in most books — until now. The Other Brain is the story of glia, which make up approximately 85 percent of the cells in the brain. Long neglected as little more than cerebral packing material ("glia" means glue), glia are sparking a revolution in brain science.

Glia are completely different from neurons, the brain cells that we are familiar with. Scientists are discovering that glia have their own communication network, which operates in parallel to the more familiar communication among neurons. Glia provide the insulation for the neurons, and glia even regulate the flow of information between neurons.

But it is the potential breakthroughs for medical science that are the most exciting frontier in glia research today. Diseases such as brain cancer and multiple sclerosis are caused by diseased glia. Glia are now believed to play an important role in such psychiatric illnesses as schizophrenia and depression, and in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. They are linked to infectious diseases such as HIV and prion disease (mad cow disease, for example) and to chronic pain. Scientists have discovered that glia repair the brain and spinal cord after injury and stroke. The more we learn about these cells that make up the "other" brain, the more important they seem to be.

Written by a neuroscientist who is a leader in the research to reveal the secrets of these brain cells, The Other Brain offers a firsthand account of science in action. It takes us into the laboratories where important discoveries are being made, and it explains how scientists are learning that glial cells come in different types, with different capabilities. It tells the story of glia research from its origins to the most recent discoveries and gives readers a much more complete understanding of how the brain works and where the next breakthroughs in brain science and medicine are likely to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743291415
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 12/29/2009
Pages: 371
Product dimensions: 6.42(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.33(d)

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The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
jamesrobertson More than 1 year ago
"The Other Brain", written by R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D., is a must read for anyone interested in the scientific basis of higher brain functions. Virtually every educated person knows that brain function is the result of brain cells called neurons. Wrong! Neurons comprise only 10% of brain cells. The majority of other cells in the brain are collectively known as glia. These comprise about 5 distinct groups of brain cells. Research over the past 30 years has shown that these cells are equal partners in cognitive information processing, and may be more important than neurons. In fact, they may actually be directing the networks of neurons that have been considered the basis of intelligence, memory formation and consciousness for over a century. Additionally, these cells are now considered leading candidates for both the cause and potential treatments of neurological diseases including Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, ALS, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. The use of glia as stem cells in treatment of these conditions, as well as strokes and brain tumors, is currently a hot topic of research. Dr. Fields, Chief of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is preeminently qualified to write about this topic. His life-long research on glia has provided important clues that may eventually lead to treatment or cures for paralysis resulting from spinal cord trauma. Fields is a consummate storyteller, and has been referred to as "our neural Jacques Cousteau" because of his ability to transform such a difficult subject into an enjoyable and accessible writing style. Most notable is his intermix of vignettes of the life of men who have worked with glia within the body of the text. This includes some of the most exotic and eccentric characters imaginable. Particularly enjoyable was the brilliant explorer and scientific polyglot Fridtjof Nansen who first proposed in the nineteenth century that glia were involved in higher cognitive functions. He also mapped ocean currents and received the Nobel Peace Prize. Also notable is the driven and hyper-focused pediatrician Carleton Gajdusek who left a comfortable life in research on infantile paralysis to impulsively travel to New Guinea to live with cannibals for several years to study kuru (similar to Mad Cow Disease). He may be the only Nobel Laureate in Medicine to serve time in prison after receiving this prestigious award. Ichiji Tasaki was given laboratory space at the National Institutes of Health until his recent death at the age of 100. He initially built his own equipment by hand because his research had outpaced the available technology. The significance of his lifelong research continues to influence gliobiologist to this day. I have read most of the popular text on brain function written by Nobel Laureates, prominent neuroscientists, philosophers, linguist and "science writers". None can match "The Other Brain" as far as thoroughness of scientific facts and ease or reading. It is a real "page turner". It is the only book on brain function that I could not put down until completed. Until you read this remarkable book about glia, "the other half of the brain", your knowledge of brain function is far from complete.
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Peterk54 More than 1 year ago
I was truly amazed by this book. It is revolutionary information about the brain that has just come to light in very recent times thanks to the research of Dr Fields and many others. On top of it all, its a great story that anyone can follow. I am a 60 year old retired grocery store manager and I loved it. It is fast-paced and reveals one "shocker" after another. Most amazing is the discovery that humans have a "leg up" in evolution's battle for food and reproduction. Find out the book!
Marjoriemurray More than 1 year ago
This is a must read book! Dr.Fields has brought the complex study of science down to a laymans level. The book reads like a novel. It takes the reader back to the struggles of the early Neuroscientists as they tried to understand the brain. He leads us into an exciting future, with Glia Cells and their many functions in the other brain. This new information gives hope to many with brain disabilities. This book is brilliantly written, and I look forward to reading future writings by Dr. Fields. Marjorie Murray Monterey, CA
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