The brain is considered by many biologists and doctors to be the “last frontier” of the human body. While the processes and functions of other organs like the kidneys and lungs are mostly understood and comparatively straightforward, exactly how the brain works remain largely misunderstood by the scientific community.
However, breakthroughs in how the brain is studied occur frequently with the rapid increase in our technological capabilities. Here are the usual ways that scientists in the 21st-century study human brains and what they can learn from each technique.
Imaging technology delivers usable pictures of the brain that can be used to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess the overall health of the brain. Examples of imaging technology include MRIs and CAT scans.
These types of tests enable doctors to reliably evaluate blood flow through the brain, to measure electrical activity, to see which parts of the brain are most active, to detect pathological processes like tumor development, and more.
These tests are becoming more and more affordable and effective, so in the future, they will become more important in the delivery of healthcare.
The oldest way to study the brain directly is still a source of useful and insightful information for scientists who take brain samples. There are many benefits of a vibrating microtome machine when taking samples of a brain or a spinal cord.
Small slices of the brain can be useful for observation under a microscope. The only obvious downside of physically studying the brain is that the patient must be deceased; this limits the applications in the medical field for better understanding the brain in general rather than for use on individual patients for diagnostic purposes.
Brain function and behavior are closely linked. For example, neurotransmitters can have profound effects on a patient’s mood and decision making, either positively by promoting a sense of peace and well-being or negatively by triggering uncomfortable conditions like anxiety or depression.
Psychiatrists and behavioral scientists who study patients often rely on observations of behaviors as indicators of patients’ progress or how they are responding to certain medications. Although not as exact as imaging or physical study of the brain, behavior can provide great clues to what is going on inside the brain at any given time.
The brain is a complicated and fascinating organ. As the ways we study it evolve and new technology becomes available, we will likely gain lots more incredible knowledge about how it works.
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