For years scientists believed that the human brain could only develop neural connections during the early years of a person's life. With this paradigm, hope was bleak for people who suffered catastrophic injuries, as doctors believed they'd not be able to regain lost abilities, such as speech. However, new medical discoveries suggest that the complex organ is more resilient — and more of a dark horse — than previously thought.
"New research shows that though there are certain periods that are more prevalent than others, our brains can actually reorganize or 'rewire' and form new connections throughout life," says Daniella Orihuela, an exhibition developer at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. "This phenomenon is known as plasticity or neuroplasticity. This incredible phenomenon that our brains are capable of is applicable in the event of a brain injury."
In addition to the brain's ability to bounce back after a trauma, which has given hope to many — survivors of strokes; patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s — it's also been found that it can form new neural connections in response to new experiences, meaning humans are capable of being lifelong learners. It's with this shapeshifting power of our brains in mind that Frost Science unveils "Brain: The Inside Story" on Saturday, October 7. The exhibition, which will be open until April 15, will not only explore how the brain works at its most basic functions, but will also share the most recent, game-changing insights drawn from the field of neuroscience.
"Neuroplasticity can occur as an adaptive mechanism to compensate for lost function in the event of a brain injury... This means healthy brain areas can form new connections to substitute for damaged ones so the person can possibly walk or talk again," Orihuela says. "Though we do have to keep in mind that every case is different and that there may be some where the damage is extensive, science is showing us that the brain can make adaptions with therapy, being diligent and patient with rehabilitation and a positive mindset."
When it comes to being attentive to your cerebrum's health, though brain cells deteriorate as we age, Orihuela says we can work on holding off this decline and keep our brains healthy by continuing to challenge them with new experiences, thus forming new connections, and practicing activities that strengthen those connections. This newfound research regarding the brain's ability to adapt is a call to action.
"Scientists — and all of us — still have much to discover and learn about the brain’s amazing capabilities," Orihuela says, "which is why it is so important to continue advocating and supporting evidence-based research and policy."
One way you can support evidence-based research — while forming new neural connections — is by checking out the new exhibition, which will be divided into seven sections within the museum's Hsiao Family Special Exhibition Gallery. Through imaginative art, such as an installation that simulates the flashing of firing neurons, and interactive displays, the show is poised to give visitors, Orihuela says, a "new perspective of their own gray matter."
One way the exhibition will do this, for example, is showcasing the brain scans of a professional basketball player as he reacts to the uproarious sounds of making a winning shot. The rare inside look highlights how the organ responds to important moments in our daily lives. There will also be a three-pound preserved brain on view that visitors can gawk at, as well as several games—brain teasers, puzzles and a build-a-brain exhibit—aimed at teaching guests how the brain changes over time, how it evolved, and the technological advances that may change it in the future.
"Our choices and experiences help shape the way our brains’ neurons are connected and essentially how they work," Orihuela says. "This exhibition... highlights how special the human brain is, and why no two of them are alike."
"Brain: The Inside Story." Saturday, October 7, at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, 1101 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-434-9600; frostscience.org. Admission costs $20 to $29 for the general public; $17 to $24.65 for Miami-Dade residents; and free to members and children ages 2 and under.
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