In the first chapter of his book, Phantoms in the Brain, premier neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran quotes Sherlock Holmes: “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routines of everyday life.”
It was this “Sherlock Holmes” aspect of science and medicine – of exploring the unusual and figuring out how things work – that ultimately led to Ramachandran’s successful career in neurology. When he first began to study neurology, the brain was largely unchartered territory. Why is it that some people see colors when they smell certain aromas? Why is it that some people can still feel their fingertips – even when their hands are missing? For Ramachandran, a lifetime of mysteries was waiting to be solved.
As a child growing up in India and Thailand, Ramachandran loved the beautiful simplicity of scientific experiments. Put an iron nail in a blue solution of copper sulfate, and iron becomes copper – like magic! As a neurologist, Ramachandran continued to embrace a low-tech and elegant approach to scientific study whenever possible. When one of his patients still felt the painfully-clenched fist of his severed hand, Ramachandran used a mirror to fool the patient into seeing his missing hand and the patient was then able to unclench it and feel relief.
Ramachandran explains the “grandmother test” to UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler: “If an elaborate theory can not predict what your grandmother knows using common sense, then it isn’t worth much.” Thus, the litmis test of a well-constructed experiment is two-fold: first, it should be simple enough to easily explain it to your grandmother so that she understands it; and second, she should say “Wow!” If it’s too complicated to explain and it doesn’t interest her, then try again.
Moving is something we do without thinking but it’s not as simple as it may seem. Movement is an incredibly complex process that requires different parts of the brain working with muscles and nerves throughout the body. Signals move between the brain and the rest of the body controlling the coordination needed — but sometimes that system breaks down.
When that communication isn’t functioning properly it is referred to as a movement disorder. These neurological syndromes often begin slowly and progress over time. Many have genetics as the common cause. Parkinson’s is perhaps the best known as it affects approximately one million Americans and in most cases is caused by genetic predisposition or exposure to certain drugs and toxins.
The Brain Channel recently completed an eight part series on movement disorders and the amazing research that is happening at UC San Diego to better understand, treat and cope with these often devastating diseases. Join Dr. Bill Mobley, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, as he welcomes physicians, researchers and clinicians to discuss their work and passion for seeking discoveries to alleviate the suffering associated with these disorders.
Take a few moments to learn what these dedicated researchers are doing by clicking on the videos below.
“A lot of the time when you think the patient is crazy, it means you’re not smart enough to figure it out.” – V.S. Ramachandran
Seeing numbers as colors. Feeling the pain from a phantom limb. Sensing shadowy figures around your bed. V.S. Ramachandran, PhD studies these seeming anomalies of the mind to discover the bigger questions about how our brains function. Dive in to a fascinating conversation as he joins William Mobley, MD, PhD to discuss his fascinating career and his scientific process.
Do you have trouble remembering people’s names? Have you ever forgotten where you parked your car?
Dr. Kate Possin, assistant professor of neuropsychology at UCSF, says that those are actually specific memory problems that are linked with different circuits or memory systems in the brain. In this video, watch her use different memory tests to reveal the difference between types of memory, like long term memory and working memory.
Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced his plans to create a bold, $100 million public-private initiative to better understand the brain and the diseases that affect it. Appropriately called BRAIN (for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), the group brings together experts across private industry, academia and government agencies in the areas of neuroscience, neurotechnology and neuroscience.
And it seems our viewers are always hungry for more. UCTV’s Human Brain iTunes feed consistently shows up in iTunesU’s Top 10 Collections and “What’s Hot” sections.
No doubt that President Obama’s endorsement will mean even more exciting discoveries — and UCTV programs — to come. In the meantime, subscribe to our Human Brain feed in iTunes and browse our archive of Neurology programs at our website. There’s plenty to keep your brain busy!