Huge potential today as scientists discover that the brain can use ‘wasted’ areas to master other body functions. This knowledge is groundbreaking in how we understand the brain’s machinery. These findings may help those with prosthetic limbs and those who suffer from the often disabling condition of phantom limb pain.
The study in the journal Current Biology looked at how the brain works when carrying out everyday tasks, using sophisticated MRI imaging to capture the brain in action. Researchers compared those who had been born with one hand to those born with two. The MRI images showed that the brain used the lips, feet and remaining hand to help those with one hand to complete these tasks. The ground-breaking finding is that the part of the brain that would normally control the missing hand was involved in moving these other parts instead.
Historically, scientists have understood areas of the brain to be divided up into the body parts that they control. When someone develops a condition affecting the brain, such as cancer and stroke, scans can show which area is involved; this guides doctors in advising how speech or movement may be affected. These new findings suggest that the brain may be more complex than previously thought.
The study only looked at a small number of individuals and there are limits of how much can be drawn from the findings of functional MRI. But the results of this study may mean that the brain is actually divided into areas it uses for certain functions and not necessarily for certain body parts. This could hold the answer for those who need prosthetic limbs. Dramatic improvements could be made in how amputees may be able to control their prostheses with their mind. It may also change our understanding of conditions such as phantom limb pain and how best to help those with the condition.
Although this research only suggests a theory on how the brain controls the body, it could provide a new field of research that may hold the answer to how we understand the brain to work. This may offer future developments in helping those who have suffered amputation or medical conditions that affect how the brain functions.
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Links and Further Reading
- Hahamy A, Macdonald SN, Heiligenberg F, et al. Representation of Multiple Body Parts in the Missing-Hand Territory of Congenital One-Handers. Current Biology. 2017. Published online and available via: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(17)30352-4