Vulnerable efficiency

Called into life by the American Dana Foundation in 1996, Brain Awareness Week (BAW) activities span around the globe today. The aim is to familiarise people with the latest research into the most astonishing human organ.

There is almost nothing as complex in the universe as the human brain, and its capabilities are nearly inexhaustible. It is perfectly normal for us humans to breath, feel, eat, sleep and learn; we only realise we have a brain when it starts to malfunction.

According to Suomen Aivot one in three Europeans is currently affected by brain disorders, with stroke known to be the leading cause.

"The number of strokes will even increase because the global population is aging," argues Head of the Clinical Stroke Research Group Professor Markku Kaste. Young people are not spared from brain diseases.

"In fact, there are signs that stroke also increasingly occurs at earlier age," Kaste emphasises.

Disability is the heaviest burden

In Kaste’s opinion, "the heaviest burden of brain disease is severe disability because it often leads to a long-standing decline in quality of life with psychosocial consequences."

Therefore, Kaste’s research team works on methods that protect brain cells from the damaging effect of oxygen starvation, which occurs when an occluded brain artery causes a brain infarct. Not only brain-artery-opening drugs are studied, as Kaste’s team also explores how to extend the time frame in which such a treatment is still meaningful.

Music as a remedy

Once lasting damages such as speech disorder and paralysis occur, therapy is the only possibility. Irma Järvelä, associate professor in medical molecular genetics, researches music that is used as alternative therapeutic to costly medication.

Music is known to speed up rehabilitation processes, for instance in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, aphasia, and depression. Järvelä’s research group is especially interested in the genetic predispositions of musical aptitude. The researchers assume that the identification of molecules associated with music perception, listening and performing will reveal new mechanisms of brain function.

"Improving our knowledge of interactions between the biological basis of music and human physiological functions will also improve the development of non-invasive, cost-effective applications of music medicine," Järvelä adds.

Markku Kaste and Irma Järvelä were speakers of last week’s BAW activities organised by Suomen Aivosäätiö. A series of lectures organised by Suomen Aivot in collaboration with the University of Helsinki’s Department of Neurosciences can be followed at Porthania or via streaming today between 3 and 7 p.m. Among the lecturers is Perttu Lindsberg, Professor of Molecular Neurology.

American Dana Foundation »»

Suomen Aivot ry »»

Suomen Aivosäätiö »»

Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: 123rf
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