Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Top 5 strategic areas for research in neuroscience:

As I read more topics and books on neuroscience, the more I realize that we have only scratched the surface in understanding what really goes on in our heads. This led me to look at various sources across the web in compiling a list of five principle strategic areas that we need to focus to understand at a deeper level the activities of the ‘wet web’ that is within our heads. With this in mind, I am proposing the following five broad areas of research that universities and governments across the world will need to invest time, brains and money for achieving a better understanding in neuroscience.

1. Experience and environment driven modification of genes in the neural realm
Research and investments into genetic modifications due to neural activity in response to life events, environment, culture, beliefs, preferences and intentions across demographic groups such as family, community, society and nations. The impact of religion, ethnicity and race would be an additional orthogonal factor to the effects of the above and will need to be studied as well. This initiative will need to be funded and coordinated across multiple universities across the world.

2. Functional understanding of neural substrates spatially
Investments and research into understanding the functional aspects of different parts or 'spaces' in the human brain. Being able to zoom in or out to understand, display and explain activity in response to intrinsic and extrinsic stimulation at different levels - the synapse, the neuron, the cortical column, ensembles of cortical columns, circuits of cortical ensembles and so on until we are able to functionally explain activities across the whole brain in response to stimulus. This kind of a coordinated multi-level integration and formulation needs to be directed across various universities and hospitals. Investments in imaging technologies are crucial and the only way this will go forward.

3. Functional understanding of neural substrates temporally
Research and investments into collecting neural modifications over time. Coordinated research into clarifying changes that happen at microscopic levels like individual synapses to macroscopic levels like modifications in coordinated neural circuits that can be 'snapshotted' temporally over the lifetime of study subjects. This will yield valuable information among others on ageing, development, neurogenesis, neural substrate atrophy and temporal modification of neural activity due to disease onset/progression. This is time consuming expensive research that could span the average lifetime of a human and should be started as soon as possible

4. Databasing the brain across multiple realms - neuroinformatics
None of the above comes to fruition without extensive investments and programs in neuroinformatics. In fact there is little hope of making progress in the spatial and temporal domains described above unless we build up data warehouses that can be tapped across high speed networks by researchers across the world. This will require new university initiatives or retooling of existing informatics programs and network protocols to equip and position ourselves into providing for tomorrow’s neuroinformatics data explosion. Tools that help correlate, slice and integrate information across various data stores and common protocols and those that marry disparate data formats will also have to be studied and implemented.

5. Neurobiological basis to understanding the mind and neuroethics
Formulating a unified theory to defining the mind through the integration of various neurobiological research areas. Extensive research needs to focus on the various ‘neurobiologies’ – among others, I may quote here are the neurobiology of the senses, feeling, abstract thought, rationality, emotions and thinking culminating in a unified neurobiological understanding of consciousness. This can be achieved only by integrating results from all of the above strategies into a coherent whole that will allow us to better define our mind and self. Congruent with this research will be investments made into understanding and defining neuroethics and clearly defining boundaries for the mind and brain and legislating the definitions of brain death and mental illness in a more substantive way.

References:
1. Antonio Rosa Damasio MD, PhD
- Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

2. Antonio M. Battro MD
- Half a brain is enough

3. Huda Akil PhD
- Mind Brain and Neuroscience

4. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran MD, PhD
- The perception of phantom limbs: The D. O. Hebb lecture. Brain, 121, 1603-1630.

5. James L. McClelland
- Retrieving general and specific information from stored knowledge of specifics: Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 170-172.

6. Alexander Romanovich Luria
- The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory

7. Patricia S. Churchland and Terrence J. Sejnowski
- A Critique of Pure Vision

3 comments:

LynClay said...

Hello Sunil and thank you so much for visiting and commenting in my blog! I am enjoying reading all the fascinating things in your blog about the human brain. Deeply thought-provoking and I like how you described the brain as a "wet web"!

LynClay said...

Sunil this is a very lovely painting, you are so artistically talented! I love the way you painted the exotic beauty of her eyes!

Sunil said...

Thank you, lynclay!
Enjoyed looking at your blog and glad to note that you enjoyed my paintings...
I will keep going back to your blog for more good posts...