Even with years of schooling and training under their belts, doctors are still puzzled and looking for the overall cure to all cancers including the brain. The hardest part about brain cancer, aside from a cure, is that it’s unlike any other cancer in the body. The brain is encased in the skull and so the cancer doesn’t have a way to metastasize, thus it begins to affect speech and vision among others. For the longest time, people were trying to find reasons why brain cancer occurs. Fields talks about how people instill fear in themselves when it involves “invisible radiation” that’s radiating from our cell phones and even microwaves but they aren’t worried about tobacco use or the sun.
When I was growing up, the biggest fear was that overuse of a cell phone would cause brain cancer. OJ’s defense attorney’s neurosurgeon was even convinced that his was caused by overuse of his cell phone. I find it interesting that people are so worried about their cell phone or microwave, but pay no mind to the radiation from the sun or from smoking a cigarette. I think the answer to that is that there are a lot of resources available to combat those issues, but we’re unsure of how to handle not using our cell phones or even a microwave. Fields even talks about how earbuds have been used to keep the phones further away from us.
Another topic that Fields goes in depth with is that cancers have the ability to spread, even if it’s surgically removed it can still leave behind small specks that could regrow and spread. Fields mentions Sontheimer’s reasoning in how the glia cells can get through tight passageways in the cells. Sontheimer’s thoughts were that the cancer cell “squeezes water out of its cytoplasm so that it can shrink and slither through narrow spaces” (pg. 77) However, when he tested this theory in rats with glioblastoma the glioma cells didn’t shrink but retained their water. Instead of figuring out how the cancer is able to spread, he found what could potentially cause the death of those cancer cells.
There seems to be a patter with brain cancer and it starts and ends with the glia. You would think that surgery and radiation treatment would be the answer, but it’s possible that those could do just as much damage as the cancer itself. Knowing what they know about glia, I’m curious as to why it’s not as easy to control, especially being that this occurs in just the brain. Fields’ visit with the neurobiology professor was tough to digest, especially since both are in the field of neuroscience and one of them was battling cancer. The two went back and forth for quite a while, eventually the professor saying that brain cancer wasn’t like other cancers and questioning why it was kept inside the brain and never travelling to other parts of the body.
The human brain is one of the most interesting parts of the human body and is actually one of my favorites to learn about. It’s overall function is quite interesting, especially with how each part plays a role in our day to day life. One part that I found interesting is that corpus callosum is responsible for the left and right brain hemispheres communicating. The example of a split brain patient looking at a pirate with an earring was pretty fascinating about how the brain communicates with itself. Especially being that without the corpus callosum, the hemispheres would have no idea that there was another hemisphere next to it.
The corpus callosum doesn’t just connect the hemispheres of our brain. It is also more of a bridge for the axons to get across to the other side. If that bridge isn’t there, one can be made and everything moves along as it’s meant to. Luckily there are “guards”, the glia, that are nearby that prevent cross-wires of the axons that are moving about. Fields writes about how the people that lack a corpus callosum have the ability to remember factual information from years back, but they are also more likely to suffer from mental disorders. It seems like the mis-wiring tends to make up in other areas what it’s missing.
The same goes with newborn kittens. In Fields’ chapter on Mother and Child, two Nobel Prize winners found that interaction with our environment (i.e. how we see things) is essential to the pre-wiring in the visual cortex. They used an example of a newborn kitten to where if a patch were to go over his eye and then removed a few days later, the kitten would be blind forever in that particular eye. Why, even thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with the kitten’s eye? The answer is that without that visual experience, the cerebral cortex wasn’t able to be wired properly. This is true for babies born with cataracts and cross-eyes in that it’s a critical moment to get those fixed as soon as possible. I always just assumed that when we’re born, we open our eyes and have no problems with vision.
Two German researchers were able to transplant immature astrocytes into the brain of an adult cat. It was as if they were able to reverse time and those astrocytes were able to get the visual cortex back to its youthful stage of being able to rewire itself. Unfortunately, there’s no real understanding as to why the astrocytes can do that but scientists believe that the glia may play a role in establishing a “critical period”. Stritmatter’s experiment with removing the Nogo receptor showed that the critical period could be reopened. This means that older animals could possibly somehow rewire those visual neurons to make up for the vision that was lost in a particular eye.
This goes to show that our bodies are able to accommodate or make up from some type of loss, like vision. With this information, there’s a chance to reopen the critical period but some areas won’t develop as fast as others. It’s fascinating to read about how scientists are trying to fill the “missing gaps” as they so put it about the human brain and how it functions.