Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Promising Research: Mapping the Genes of the Brain


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I flipped out a little inside when I saw this Wired Magazine article on my Google Reader feed Friday evening.

Scientists Map the Brain, Gene by Gene

The first thing you might notice if you follow that link is the photo of a man slicing off a piece of brain like it's a loaf of bread.

The second thing you might notice is that the article is really long. (six web pages)

Why in the world do I find this long, cumbersome, kind of disgusting news story about mapping the genes in the human brain so exciting?

Well, this kind of sums it up:

When the project is completed in 2012, at an expected cost of $55 million, its data sets will list the roughly 20,000 genes that, switched on in the exact right place at the exact right time, give rise to this self-aware tangle of neurons. And because the vast majority of mental illnesses and disorders, from schizophrenia to autism, have a significant genetic component, scientists at the institute hope that the atlas will eventually lead to new methods of diagnosis and more effective medical treatments. To map the brain is to map its afflictions.

Migraine disease, my friends, is one of the many afflictions of the brain with a strong genetic component.

Can you imagine the kinds of preventative therapies scientists will be able to dream up when they fully understand why we experience migraine attacks? The idea is completely delicious.

No more taking stab after stab in the dark with medications dreamed up for other people's diseases, trying to shoehorn them into being an effective remedy for our disease. We could have medications that are specifically designed to disrupt whatever happens in our brains that causes us such intense pain, nausea and sensitivity to our surroundings.

I know this is one of those lofty, far off dreams that we have to try to patiently wait for. But when we elected our first African-American president last year I felt like I finally knew what it was like to experience that kind of dream come true. This could be even more satisfying.

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