7 breakthroughs in neuroscience that are transforming our understanding of the brain

There is so much we still don’t know about our own brains. 

But every day scientists and researchers are making big strides in discovering more about how our mind functions and what it’s capable of.

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping us understand much more about what our minds are capable of as well as the role of technology in working with and expanding mental capability. 

Take a look at the following stunning breakthroughs in neuroscience and how they’re changing the way we see the power of the mind… 

1) We see the world in the best way to help us survive it

Our eyes don’t necessarily transmit back what’s right in front of them to our brain. 

In fact, they transmit back the visual data that’s most necessary for our survival. 

This discovery of the adaptive eye by Professor Rafael Polania and Professor Todd Hare of the University of Zurich is groundbreaking. 

It shows that what we believe about the world also impacts what our eye sees even at the retinal level.

As Christoph Elhardt writes:

“This study provides evidence that cognitive biases aren’t just errors causing inaccurate judgments, but in fact, are integral to our survival strategy, as they allow us to perceive the world in a selective way due to our limited cognitive abilities.”

This linkage of confirmation bias and belief with what our eye actually perceives is a big breakthrough in neuroscience and psychology.

The adaptive eye is backed up by years of in-depth psychological research about the nature of perception as well, from leaders in the field such as Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky. 

2) Special brain zapping procedures can make you smarter and help Alzheimer’s patients

Another recent discovery that has the neuroscience world humming is the benefits of TDCS, or transcranial direct current stimulation

This may sound like “shock therapy,” but it’s actually much lower current and the purpose is focused on increasing brain activity and revitalizing memory capability. 

TDCS has already been researched for awhile now, including more than ten years ago by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but it’s only now that the full benefits of TCDS or “brain zapping.”

Brain zapping has been found to increase overall memory retention 

Especially older folks with memory issues or disorders like Alzheimer’s.

This also ties into the ability of tACS (transcranial alternating current stimulation) to greatly increase cognitive ability. 

More research remains to be done, but it’s clear that there is great potential with tCDS and tACS. 

3) Neural implants are changing how we see the brain, disability, cognition and mood

When it comes to neuroscience and technology, major advancements and discoveries are being made. 

One of the biggest recent finds regards neural implants

Researcher Satinderpall Pannu, who heads up the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center for Bioengineering recently announced that neural implants are rapidly advancing. 

He says that a new retinal implant can restore visual acuity in the same way that cochlear implants in the 1980s revolutionized hearing aids. 

Further neural implants include treatments for Parkinson’s and epileptic fits via interacting with deep-brain neural activity and the vagus nerve. 

Neural implants are also increasingly being studied to treat mood disorders and help with anxiety, depression and issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Pannu says neural implants to treat chemical imbalances are in our near future.

4) Brain-computer interfaces are revolutionizing everything

Brain computer interfaces 7 breakthroughs in neuroscience that are transforming our understanding of the brain

Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are revolutionizing the way we think of the mind and its capability. 

Doctor Edward Chang at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has helped work on the latest cutting edge of this technology which has been able to help a paralyzed, mute woman speak through an avatar.

This represents the first time in history that brain signals have been able to be translated into vocal and visual representation. 

Chang’s BCI system will head up an FDA-backed way to type and express emotions from interpretation of brain signals. 

The BCI puts a thin electrode grid onto the brain over areas related to speech and linked to a computer. The electrodes pick up on signals that would have been sent to the face, vocal chords and tongue in order to express emotion and speak on an avatar.

You think it: the screen types it. We are now in that reality. 

As Science Daily notes:

“The current study demonstrates something more ambitious: decoding brain signals into the richness of speech, along with the movements that animate a person’s face during conversation.”

5) Brain implant allows paralyzed patients to move

Chang’s research on BCI isn’t the only major progress being made. 

Groundbreaking research out of the University of Melbourne has led to the development of a small microtechnology device that allows paralyzed people to move their limbs with their mind.

Trial experiments at the university let paralyzed individuals perform actions like clicking, writing and online shopping using only their mind with 93% accuracy. 

The small device, the Stentrode, is put into the patient’s motor cortex through their neck and actually uses wireless signals to transmit neural activity to a computer and then allow them small movements. 

This is a massive breakthrough that eliminates the need for brain surgery and reads the intentions of your mind, showing the power of neurotechnology to interpret desires via neural activity and take action based on them. 

6) The discovery of SCAN

The discovery of a crucial area of our brain’s motor cortex is also transforming how we understand the workings of the mind. 

This area, named the somato-cognitive action network (SCAN) basically aligns our physical body with our goals and cognition. 

It’s the area of the brain that activates when we tense up just before a major meeting or walk faster to get to an appointment on time. 

As Natalia Mesa, Ph. D. writes

“They found that the three newly discovered areas of the primary motor cortex connected to the cingulo-opercular network (CON), a brain region that’s been linked to action, goals, arousal, and pain.”

Overall, they called this network the somato-cognitive action network, or SCAN, hypothesizing that the network connects goals, physiology, and body movement.”

Neuroscience Nico Dosenbach and Evan Gordon came across the links between the motor cortex and cognitive areas of the brain while doing other research and were initially surprised at the link. 

Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano calls the recent studies “very exciting,” saying the link between cognition and the motor cortex is a big step forward. 

This also hearkens back to the 1949 discovery of the related reticular activating system (RAS) by Italian neurophysiologist Giuseppe Moruzzi and his research partner Horace Magoun. 

Moruzzi and Magoun found that neurons located in our brainstems are part of a system that decides when we feel sleepy or wake up. 

They also discovered that people’s RAS functions at different levels or set points, determining how much they remember and notice around them. 

In addition to how wakeful and perceptive we are to information and our environment, these set points also influence how introverted or extroverted we are.

7) Brain cancer disguises itself as neurons in order to spread 

Another disturbing discovery shows that cancer cells are able to disguise themselves as neurons in order to cause brain cancer. 

The findings recently published in Cell journal, show that glioblastoma cells get past the blood-brain divide by pretending to be baby neurons who need more help to strengthen themselves. 

“It turns out that glioblastoma cells, a highly invasive and incurable cancer, spread throughout the brain by disguising themselves as immature neurons in need of support,” explains Dan Robitzski

The study found that glioblastoma is so deadly and incurable because the cancer cells grow in a vicious cycle of hidden tumors by pretending to be neurons. 

With this new knowledge, neuro-oncologist Peter Hau says that therapies will be much more accurate and potentially effective to develop.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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