The Study of Neurological Disorders

This last month the Board of Plus One Foundation was once again able to approve and distribute more grants for our Occasions Program ( http://www.plusonefoundation.com/occasions.html ). It is always an exciting time for us as when all the logistics of running a foundation are said and done, and we are able to review applications. Allocating funds for people in need is truly where the rubber meets the road. One thing that struck me this round while reviewing the background of our recipients was how different each individual disorder was. We throw around the term "Neurological Disorder" for convenience to explain a large group of people that we work with, however, it still amazes me on how complex the spectrum of neurological disorders really are. Most of the disorders I read about deal with Autism, Head Injuries, Multiple Sclerosis,and Cerebral Palsy but there are over 600+ classifications of brain injury and disease. You can view a complete list at the National Institute of Neurological disorders ( http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/disorder_index.htm ) or the disorder index at: http://www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/ At these sites you can browse the different classifications. Some definitions are straightforward like Head Injuries or Autism, others are a bit of mystery as to why they are classified as neurological disorders like Back Pains. Others are simply too clinical for me to comprehend like Dyssynergia Cerebellaris Myoclonica. What I marvel at is the advancement in not only our understanding of the brain and neurological disorders but also the advancement in the studies of the brain.

The academic discipline of neurological studies started some time in 16th century beginning from observational science and the physical study of the brain. Thomas Willis in 1664, published his Anatomy of the Brain, followed by Cerebral Pathology in 1676. Willis removed the brain from the cranium, and was able to describe it more clearly, setting forth the circle of Willis – the circle of vessels that enables arterial supply of the brain. Willis was able to develop some notions as to brain function, including a vague idea as to localization and reflexes, and described epilepsy, apoplexy and paralysis. Willis is also credited with one of the first people to use the term Neurology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_neurology).

Of course neurological studies kept evolving. The most famous milestone and one of the most referenced case studies is that of Phineas Gage. Gage was a foreman for a railroad company when a blasting accident sent a long railroad rod through his frontal lobe. He survived the accident and provided a platform for scientific discussion and theory on the parts of the brain that control both physical and emotional elements. Even today the case of Phineas Gage and the theories that followed his accident are still reviewed and challenged (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage).

Which bring us to the complicated studies happening today. For example the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Taken from their website http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/, HCP writes, "Mapping of the human connectome offers a unique opportunity to understand the complete details of neural connectivity (Sporns et al., 2005, Wedeen et al., 2008, Hagmann et al., 2007). The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is a project to construct a map of the complete structural and functional neural connections in vivo within and across individuals. The HCP represents the first large-scale attempt to collect and share data of a scope and detail sufficient to begin the process of addressing deeply fundamental questions about human connectional anatomy and variation." For me the Wikipedia description of the HCP was more clear: "The goal of the Human Connectome Project is to build a "network map" that will shed light on the anatomical and functional connectivity within the healthy human brain, as well as to produce a body of data that will facilitate research into brain disorders such as autism, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia." The right brain side of me personally enjoys the digital visuals HCP supplies in it's gallery: http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/gallery/ The brain is a work of art on its own.

The point to take away is that when it comes to the study of Neurological disorders the education never ends. I have only referenced a few examples but it is clear education happens on all fronts, at all levels from acknowledging the large spectrum of 600+ classified neurological disorders or ongoing learning about injury & disease such as the recent trend in concussion articles to the complex mapping of the brain, the cells and the proteins that enable us to do what we do. The challenge is that Plus One has 600+ reasons to keep on working hard. No matter what the classification of disorder we want to do our best to support treatment and make life more enjoyable for people living with a Neurological disorder.

Mark Nieves Plus One Foundation Board Member