Brain plasticity

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Brain plasticity

Postby NHE » Thu Dec 20, 2007 4:02 am

Learning to see with your tongue.

Most of us see with our eyes, but what if we could see with other parts of our body, too? The idea may seem ridiculous, but it's already been done. Nearly a half-century ago, maverick neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita discovered that it was possible to "rewire" the adult brain, connecting regions in ways no one ever had imagined. Today, his ideas have given a handful of blind people the ability to see for the first time—using their tongues.

For a long time, scientists believed that after childhood, the brain became "fixed" in its ways and impossible to change. But Bach-y-Rita reasoned that because the nerves carrying messages from one part of the body to the brain are identical to those carrying messages from other body parts, it might actually be possible, even in adulthood, to substitute one sense for another.

So Bach-y-Rita went to work.

First he developed a device that translated images caught on camera into pulses that were transmitted onto a blind person's back. By figuring out what image was being "drawn" onto their backs, people could, in a sense, see the image that was in front of them.

Bach-y-Rita then shifted his medium from the back to the tongue, which is both covered in nerves and highly conductive. He developed a device called the BrainPort consisting of 625 sensors that deliver fine-grained spatial information to the tongue and, by extension, the brain. Over time, blind people using the device truly start "seeing": When the tongue is tapped, the regions of the brain associated with vision light up in response.

The BrainPort does, in effect, rewire the brain.

(video available via the above link)


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Postby Lyon » Fri Dec 21, 2007 6:27 am

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Postby CureOrBust » Sun Dec 23, 2007 1:30 am

I watched the later half of this video with great interest, and confusion...

The woman has physical damage to the sensory nerve in her inner ear. Now, no one is suggesting that the helmet heals this nerve damage, yet the woman appears to have returned balance. No one suggested that she had any brain damage either. So what has changed to return her balance? Has another physical part of the woman now feeding the brain replacement information? hairs on her head (would of been held down by the helmet), neck? what? I could understand that if another body part feeds similar information that brain plasticity could possibly rewire itself to make use the new input.
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Postby CureOrBust » Sun Dec 23, 2007 5:06 am

OK, I found an attempt to explain the effect at ==> http://sandrablakeslee.com/articles/brainport_nov04.php
Ms. Schiltz, too, whose vestibular system was damaged by gentamicin, an inexpensive generic antibiotic used for Gram-negative infections, said that the first few times she used the BrainPort she felt tiny impulses on her tongue but still could not maintain her balance. But one day, after a full 20-minute session with the BrainPort, Ms. Schiltz opened her eyes and felt that something was different. She tilted her head back. The room did not move. "I went running out the door," she recalled. "I danced in the parking lot. I was completely normal. For a whole hour." Then, she said, the problem returned.

She tried more sessions. Soon her balance was restored for three hours, then half a day. Now working with the BrainPort team at the University of Wisconsin, Ms. Schiltz wears the tongue unit each morning. Her balance problems are gone as long as she keeps to the regimen.

How the device produces a lasting effect is being investigated. The vestibular system instructs the brain about changes in head movement with respect to the pull of gravity. Dr. Bach-y-Rita speculated that in some patients, a tiny amount of vestibular tissue might survive and be reactivated by the BrainPort.

Dr. Black said he had seen the same residual effect in his own pilot study. "It decays in hours to days," he said, "but is very encouraging."

Blind people who have used the device do not report lasting effects. But they are amazed by what they can see. Mr. Weihenmayer said the device at first felt like candy pop rocks on his tongue. But that sensation quickly gave way to perceptions of size, movement and recognition.

The technology is available to the public through the site ==>http://www.wicab.com/
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Postby Lyon » Sun Dec 23, 2007 11:19 am

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Postby CureOrBust » Sun Oct 05, 2008 5:09 pm

Hey, this 'BrainPort' thing has been developed for use by the public.

In the UK, it appears that you can even "TRY" the device!
http://wicab.co.uk/try-device/patient.php

But they have both a UK and USA web address:
http://wicab.co.uk
http://wicab.com

There is also an office in Belgium, for Europe:
Wicab Europe
Antwerpsesteenweg 124
2630 Aartselaar
Belgium
Telephone: +421 903 201 399
e-mail: infoEU@wicab.com
Customer Support: CustomerSupportEU@wicab.com


You can also read a lot about it on "HowStuffWorks"
http://science.howstuffworks.com/brainport2.htm
Wicab conducted a clinical trial with the balance device in 2005 with 28 subjects suffering from bilateral vestibular disorders (BVD). After training on BrainPort, all of the subjects regained their sense of balance for a period of time, sometimes up to six hours after each 20-minute BrainPort session. They could control their body movements and walk steadily in a variety of environments with a normal gait and with fine-motor control. They experienced muscle relaxation, emotional calm, improved vision and depth perception and normalized sleep patterns


The UK site also has links to a number of research articles.
http://wicab.co.uk/research/clinical-research.php
Study Results
Vestibular Study Results Summary
This summary compiles data from 93 subjects with balance deficits

The BrainPort Balance Device as a Potential Training Aid in the Rehabilitation of Balance Following Vestibular Surgery
ARO (Association of Research in Otolaryngology) 2008 poster presentation

The BrainPort Balance Device as a Potential Aid in the Rehabilitation of Balance and Mobility after Stroke or Traumatic Brain Injury
SFN (Society for Neuroscience) 2007 poster presentation

Training with the Brainport Balance Device Has the Potential to Decrease Falls in Elderly Patients with Vestibular Disorders
ARO 2007 poster presentation

A New Rehabilitation Treatment for Instability

Rehabilitation of Chronic Balance Disorders Using the BrainPort Balance Device


Nothing for MS, but I think I might still see if I can "try" one. Their form does have a "country" field.
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Postby Lyon » Sun Oct 05, 2008 6:09 pm

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Postby CureOrBust » Sat Oct 18, 2008 3:34 pm

I got a response from the BrainPort people.
Thank you for your interest in BrainPort® balance device.

We have not yet conducted any research with patients suffering from MS. Our clinical research so far has been targeting patients with balance problems due to peripheral or central vestibular dysfunctions.

Please let me know if I can help any further.

Best wishes,

Sona Walter

Mgr. Sona Walter | Marketing Manager
Wicab Europe | Antwerpsesteenweg 124
2630 Aartselaar | Belgium

P: +421 903 201 399
Web: www.wicab.eu
I will be writing back and suggesting that I will be more than willing to try it out for them, for free (ie I wont charge them a cent) :)
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Postby Lyon » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:36 am

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Postby Terry » Sun Oct 19, 2008 11:57 am

I heard one time that there was concern about this type of thing because it might be possible to accidentally wire a brain, for example, to feel pain when there should be none. On the flip-side of that, though, maybe there is a possible pain treatment in this.
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Postby CureOrBust » Mon Oct 20, 2008 12:02 am

I was interested from the start about the balance aspects; which the current commercialised unit is explicitly for. However, I guess I never explicitly state it. Its the balance stuff that catches my eye.
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Re: Brain plasticity

Postby NHE » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:50 am

Terry wrote:I heard one time that there was concern about this type of thing because it might be possible to accidentally wire a brain, for example, to feel pain when there should be none. On the flip-side of that, though, maybe there is a possible pain treatment in this.

MS has rewired my brain. I know that this sounds extreme. However, after reading The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, I am convinced that this conclusion is correct. For the last 9 years since my diagnosis I have had neuropathic pain in my right foot. I have never taken any medications for this pain. I have just tried to ignore it the best that I can and get on with my life. Norman Doidge's book talks about function creep. In effect, if a certain set of neurons are no longer used for a particular process, then functions controlled by neurons in the surrounding areas of the brain will begin to map themselves onto the under used neurons. This pattern of neuroplasticity is particularly prevalent in cases of amputation or where digits are bound together such that physically function as one unit rather than separate identities. In any case, I have experienced this function creep with respect to my leg and my leg continues to worsen (I now experience a bit of foot drop that I never used to have). If this brain port device could by chance rewire my brain back towards where it used to be, then I would consider that a good thing. Like CureOrBust, I would also be willing to volunteer.

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Re: Brain plasticity

Postby Lyon » Mon Oct 20, 2008 1:32 pm

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Postby CureOrBust » Tue Jan 20, 2009 4:14 pm

I don't know if this newspaper article has been referenced before, but I just came across it myself, and don't remember reading it previously. Those interested in Brain Plasticity would find the stories very interesting, in addition to those who wonder about recovery after the disease process of MS is stopped.

Although the first half appears to be more specifically related to the BrainPort product experience, the second half goes further into general brain plasticity (and then back again to the BrainPort), for example:

Paul Bach-y-Rita wrote:Speaking at home in Madison, Wisconsin, he told me, 'I can connect anything to anything.


Although the story of his father is not scientificly documented here, its interesting.
In 1959 Pedro, then a 65-year-old widower, had a stroke that paralysed his face and half of his body and left him unable to speak.
...
'I decided that instead of teaching my father to walk, I was going to teach him first to crawl.
...
The regime took many hours every day, but gradually Pedro went from crawling to moving on his knees, to standing, to walking.
...
On a visit to friends in Bogotá, Colombia, he went climbing high in the mountains. At 9,000 feet he had a heart attack and died shortly after. He was 72.
...
before brain scans, post-mortems were routine
...
spread out on the table, were slices of my father's brain on slides
...
Bach-y-Rita saw that his father's seven-year-old lesion was mainly in the brain stem - the part of the brain closest to the spinal cord - and that other major brain centres in the cortex that control movement had been destroyed by the stroke as well. Ninety-seven per cent of the nerves that run from the cerebral cortex to the spine were destroyed - catastrophic damage that had caused his paralysis.
...
Traditional rehabilitation exercises typically ended after a few weeks when a patient stopped improving, or 'plateaued'. But Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary - part of a plasticity-based learning cycle in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation. Though there was no apparent progress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.
...
Extracted from 'The Brain That Changes Itself', by Norman Doidge (Penguin), published on August 12 and available for £9.99 from Telegraph Books (0870-428 4112; books.telegraph.co.uk)


Edit as I just realised I forgot the URL
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/3355721/Brain-That-Changes-Itself-into-the-abyss.html
sorry :oops:
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Postby chrishasms » Tue Jan 20, 2009 6:10 pm

That is fascinating! Is it just the brain that works that way or the whole nervous system? My point is I have spinal lesions which seem to be my most pressing issues. I really wonder if I can retrain stuff to work regardless?
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