Neuroscience has been around since 4,000 B.C. when the Sumerians first learned how to use alcohol to dilute medicine (History of Neuroscience), and then up to 1700 B.C. when the first information about the nervous system recorded on papyrus. For the longest time humans have recorded information about our own bodies and have figured out ways to advance medicine in order to treat symptoms, whether they are for our body or our brain. Santiago Ramón y Cajal was the first person who founded modern neuroscience. He is considered the “Father of Neuroscience” because he was the first to find that our central nervous system is made up of neurons, or “nerve cells,” and was also the first to record the cells on paper as illustrations. His findings have created a pathway into what we know now as neuroscience, and has inspired thousands upon thousands of scientists to discover how the brain functions and what the consequences are when a piece of our brain stops working.
From 4000 B.C. to 0 A.D. there weren’t many techniques around to dissect the human brain to figure out how it actual works, or what it is in general. Most recordings were illustrations drawn on papyrus or pictographic tablets made from clay. At first, a lot of intelligent minds were trying to figure out what part of the human body was considered the “seat of intelligence.” Hippocrates thought that it was the brain, Aristotle believed that it was the heart, Herophilus, the “Father of Anatomy,” thought that it was the ventricles (what we now know as cavities or chambers that can be filled with fluid), and Plato believed that the brain was the seat of mental processing. Everyone is mostly right; in some way the brain, our heart, and our ventricles all work together to perform feedback whether it’s sensory, emotional, or physical. However, the most important part of our brain that controls all our movements, behaviors, senses, and emotions, is our brain.
From 0 A.D. to the 1900s, a lot of philosophers, artists, writers, and “scientists” wrote books and recorded information on drugs, alcohol, our eyes, how eyeglasses could be invented, depression, hearing, inventing hearing aids, and created medical terms based on the areas in our brain and body. They were all so invested in creating technology that can help with the information they had found. “In the year 1284, the first eyeglasses were constructed using a small piece of metal to form a bridge between two glass lens so that they could rest easily on the nose. In 1590, the first compound microscope was invented where a piece of metal tubing that held together a single glass lens (Ball, Clara Sue).” It wasn’t until years later in 1665 that the microscope had evolved even more. This time Two separate tubes were made with glass lenses inside of them, and when they are interchanged it makes the picture you’re looking at magnified. Subjects like Phrenology, Philosophy, and Anatomy were established, and scientists began to create more and more computerized techniques.
From the 1900s to present date, this is where we see the biggest evolution of psychology and neuroscience coming to light. Psychologists and neuroscientists alike were creating ways to future explain the reasoning behind disorders and illnesses; all of which started with Sigmund Freud. He’s considered the “Father of Psychoanalysis” because the theories he predicted about mental illnesses and behaviors were ones that he thought were a part of our unconscious mind. His life work paved the path for future psychologists and neuroscientists to further analyze and treat the illnesses and disorders discovered by Freud, which then led to the creations of modern technology. Hundreds of illnesses were diagnosed and treated because of the evolution of technology. The microscope evolved into a multiple optical lens machine that can be hooked up to a computer monitor in order to project the findings on a larger scale, and eyeglasses are now made with a more plastic than metal ratio and the lens are curved to fit the prescription the ophthalmologist (eye doctor) gives you using computerized technology to check your vision and record the results. Transplants were successfully performed and in the early 1920’s surgeons and scientists started using electricity to help with diagnoses. The first major computer that evolved not only neuroscience but also the medical field was the EEG test.
EEG stands for Electroencephalogram. “An EEG is a test that detects abnormalities in your brain waves, or in the electrical activity of your brain (Electroencephalogram (EEG)).” Doctors now use the scan to attach 16 to 25 electrodes to the scalp with a special paste, or a cap with the electrodes inside it will be placed over the head. While this is happening, you must remain relaxed and still because any moments can conclude in inaccurate readings. The electrodes that are attached to the scalp record the electrical waves flowing through your brain and send the collected information to a computer monitoring the electrical waves. Usually the computer connected to the EEG scanner and the patient are kept in separate rooms to keep the patient calm and anxious free. “This test is generally done by an EEG technician and may take approximately 45 minutes to 2 hours (Electroencephalogram (EEG)).”
The EEG test is considered a safe procedure to use and does not cause any discomfort. Generally, there are no risks to having an EEG test performed on you but certain factors or conditions could interfere with the readings from an EEG test. “Some factors include: low blood sugar, body/eye movement during the test, flashing lights, sedatives, drinks containing caffeine, and oily hair or the presence of hair spray (Electroencephalogram (EEG)).”
Before the use of the EEG test was highly recommended, it was used to establish patterns of electricity in the brain to diagnose epilepsy and other conditions. When using the electroencephalogram, surgeons had to record the EEG waves of “alpha” and “beta” during neurosurgical operations on paper for there was no easy way to record such information. This type of scanner led the way for computers in the medical field. Back in the 1900s, it’s importance for diagnosing neurological and psychiatric illnesses created a historical breakthrough and for years scientists used this scanner to help people who were in under neurological suffering. It wasn’t until years later in the early 1970s that the EEG machine was able to scan a human brain and record the brain waves on paper in a computerized way that we see now (Smith, N. Jollyon).
From the early 1900s to the 1970s the EEG scanner was all surgeons had to detect brain abnormalities. After the EEG scanner was nearly perfected, the MRI, CT, PET and fMRI scanners were introduced during the same time period, in the mid to late 1970s. The first scanner to succeed the EEG scanner was MRI imaging.
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a type of technology that can produce three dimensional detailed anatomical images from scanning human and animal bodies from their head to their toes. When doctors go to get an MRI image of a patient now, they have to be placed inside a large magnetic machine and they have to remain very still while the imaging is taken place so that the picture doesn’t come out blurry. The machine is magnetic because that’s how it attracts the protons in our body. “It creates a strong magnetic field that forces our protons to align within that magnetic field. Then the sensors inside the machine are able to detect any energy being released from the protons as they realign with the magnetic field (Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)).” This is how the MRI imaging is captured to be processed as computer graphics. It’s used for detection, diagnosis, and treatment monitoring for diseases, cancers, and any kind of abnormalities in the body that doctors wouldn’t normally be able to find on their own. For example, to see if a medical patient is suffering from tumors or aneurysms the best option would be to use an MRI scanner because it does not use any radiation that could harm the patient and it provides exceedingly better resolution.
There is another type of MRI that is “specialized specifically to observe brain structures and determine which areas of the brain “activate” during certain cognitive tasks. It is used to advance the understanding of brain organization and offers a potential new standard for assessing neurological status and neurosurgical risk (Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)).” This type of MRI is called fMRI: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and just like a normal MRI scanner it does not use any harmful radiation during the procedure.
There are risks that come with both the MRI and fMRI scanners. Since the machine is a large magnet nothing metal, iron, certain types of steel, and other magnetic objects cannot be in the same room as this machine, including implants if the patient has any (Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)). It can also produce loud noises so wearing special ear protection may be required. If a patient is claustrophobic they may have a hard time staying still inside the machine because you’re required to stay still inside a tiny space for a limited amount of time.
MRI machines were hooked up to computers to see what the brain looked like inside of a human skull without having to damage it. In the late 1970s were big and chunky and took a long time in order for a picture to appear on the screen of the abnormalities in a human brain. With the technologies we have now multiple computers can be hooked up to an MRI or fMRI scanner and project multiple images of the human brain from every different angle within a few minutes of the brain being scanned. The MRI certainly out passes the EEG scanner in a visual way. It’s easier to understand what is happening inside the brain because we can see it visually produced on a computer screen rather than in brain waves written on a piece of paper.
The next machine created after the MRI scanner was the CT scanner. CT stands for Computed Tomography, which is used today as “an x-ray computerized imaging procedure that controls the motion of the x-ray source and detectors (Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)).” The computed tomography takes data while motioning around a patient receiving the x-ray procedure, processes the data, and produces an x-ray image on a computer screen to be visualized by doctors and specialists. CT scans are also called CAT scans; the names are used interchangeably by doctors.
Unlike an MRI, the CT scan can only scan our bodies and not our heads because it uses radiation to produce an x-ray image. CT imaging is “one of the fastest and most accurate tools for examining the chest, abdomen and pelvis because it provides detailed, cross-sectional views of all types of tissue within the body(Radiology (ACR)).” It is also preferred over traditional x-ray imaging because it provides greater detail and clearer pictures, as well as it’s easily able to be transferred over to other computers, made into CDs and DVDs, and can be printed out on film or by a 3D printer.
There aren’t many risks involved when having a CT scan performed. If a woman if pregnant they should tell their doctors in case of potential risk to the unborn baby, or if a patient has serious allergic reactions to anything that contains iodine.
The first CT scanners built in the mid 1970s were used for head scanning’s only. It took several hours for the scanner to produce a sliver of imaging and then took days for the surgeons to put together the separate pieces of imaging that was scanned during that time. The scanner used tremendous amounts of radiation to be able to scan just the human head, but since then the machine has evolved and can now take an image of the human body within seconds only using the minimal amount of radiation possible. It was also declared that this particular scanner was to be used only for body scans and not brain scans because of the use of radiation to produce the x-ray like imaging.
The last and final scanner to be built during the late 1970s was the PET scanner. PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography, and it’s also called nuclear medicine imaging. The scan “uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers or radiopharmaceuticals, a special camera and a computer to evaluate organ and tissue functions. By identifying changes at the cellular level, PET scans may detect the early onset of disease before other imaging tests can (Radiology (ACR)/PET/CT).” The diseases that can be detected include “many types of cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal, endocrine or neurological disorders and other abnormalities (Radiology (ACR)/PET/CT).”
Nuclear imaging is noninvasive and painless. Just like CT scans there are minimal risks to have a PET scan done. If a woman is pregnant always tell a doctor incase of any potential risk comes to the unborn baby, and if a patient has any severe allergic reactions to the radiotracers that are used in the scanning.
The PET scanner was mainly built to find and diagnose cancer. The scanner takes an image of the human body, and within that picture the machine tries to trace the radioactive materials, given to the patient before entering the scanner, to see if the patient has some sort of cancer. Now that PET scanners have evolved, we can see how much cancer has spread throughout the human brain and body, and we can also tell its severity based on the feedback it produces from the computer imaging.
The next step in evolving neuroscience is trying to understand how each cell in our brain works within the structures and networks that make up our brain. “Neuroscience began with the identification of the neuron as the fundamental unit of brain structure and function and has evolved towards understanding the role of each cell type in the brain, how brain cells are connected to each other, and how the seemingly infinite networks they form give rise to the vast diversity of brain functions (Fan, Xue, and Henry Markram).” This is where simulation neuroscience comes in.
The last part of computerized technology making its way into the neuroscientific world is the Human Brain Project that was introduced in 2013 as a ten-year scientific research project of the human brain. Starting in 2013 and ending in 2023, scientists are aiming to gather data from the human brain and the brains’ of mice to replicate them in a computer software so scientists all over the world can experiment and research the brain without having to endanger animals or humans. If this research project is achieved by 2023 and is successful, then this can tremendously help the study and treatment creation of neurological diseases, as well as understanding the brain on a non-experimental level. “The primary objective of the HBP is to create an ICT-based (using Information and communication technology to enhance support, and optimize the delivery of information, worldwide research has shown that this can lead to improved student learning and better teaching methods) research infrastructure for brain research, cognitive neuroscience and brain-inspired computing, which can be used by researchers world-wide(Human Brain Project).”
The Human Brain Project rolled their mission all into one program called the Brain Stimulation Platform, which “is an internet-accessible collaborative Platform designed for reconstruction and simulation of brain models (Brain Simulation Platform).” The platform isn’t just to replicate brain structures; it also replicates our neurons, molecules, synapses, brain tissue, and everything that functions inside of our brains. In this platform scientists can recreate brain models that represent their experiments, allowing new techniques and functions to be performed that was never possible before.
Another platform that is created for the Human Brain Project is the Neurorobotics Platform. “This allows researchers to give any simulated brain model its own “body” – virtual or even real – and explore how it controls movement, reacts to stimulus and learns in a virtual environment. It has been shown that these robots, given a lot more perception, can construct their own effective and powerful learning rules, almost like living creatures(Robots).” Inside this platform, scientists can see how the brain reacts with body functions when they stimulate parts of the human (or animal) brain. They are currently creating a virtual mouse with everything from its internal organs to its appearance on the outside, and soon they will also create an actual mouse robot to connect to the simulated brain they created through the Brain Stimulation Platform. With the creation of the Neurorobotics Platform scientists hope to change the way robots are created and designed. If robots are created in the Neurorobotics Platform then they can also be tested in that same platform to save scientists valuable time and money, and once the robots in the platform system are ready to be built they will already be as intelligent as artificial intelligence, or maybe they’ll be even smarter.
One last platform I will talk about that stems from the Human Brain Project, and one that I think will substantially advance modern medicine, is the Medical Informatics Platform. The platforms’ sole purpose is to advance brain medicine “by using computer science to allow researchers around the world to exploit medical data, regardless of where it may be stored and to create machine learning tools that can search this data for new insights into brain-related diseases (Medicine).” As of today, doctors are only able to access medical data, such as MRI scans, from what’s stored in their own hospitals database. If, for example, a patient comes into a hospital with a rare brain tumor that has never seen before, how will the hospital go about treating this patient? They most likely don’t have any previous medical data in their database stored away for future use because it’s rarely been seen before. The patient will have to travel back and forth between doctors and specialists, and the hospital will likely have to do the same with medical records as well as racking up expenses for this once in a lifetime opportunity to treat this patients disease. This is where the Medical Informatics Platform comes in to place. With having all of the worlds medical information like MRI scans, results from cognitive tests, diagnoses, and what healthy or diseased brains look like, all in one place, doctors and specialists can go about treating their patients faster, saving their lives, and money.
The role that computers take on today only makes the world a more advanced and scientific place. Today we have learned to become comfortable with technology because it is always in the palms of our hands, but what happens if we decide to step a little too far out of our comfort zone? The idea that scientists can replicate the human brain using artificial intelligence its awe inspiring, but also terrifying at the same time. Using this type of computer to advance medicine and research is incredible and should be created to help lessen scientific studies and harm being performed on animals and humans, but solely for that reason only.
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