Monday, October 6, 2014

Trio shares Nobel for finding brain GPS

Another startling discovery about how the brain works has won a Nobel prize, this time for revealing how we know where we are on the planet.

Once it became possible to see into the brain with imaging devices discoveries like this began multiplying.

A British-American and a Norwegian couple share the prize for medicine for showing how the human GPS works.

Once again it shows that artificial intelligence, in movie form or real life, has a long way to go to get even close to mother nature.

"The discoveries have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries," the Nobel Assembly said.

May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser of Norway share the award with U.K.-based John O'Keefe.

In many ways the discoveries of these scientists and others show the miracle of neuroplasticity. It already has been shown how the brain can fix itself.

The trio has shown from examining how the cells in rat brains can tell when the rodents have moved.

They have their own “grid,” a sort of way to tell longitude and latitude. They combine “place” or location cells with “grid” cells, a sort of map.

In the popular Johnny Depp movie “Transcendence” some people want to get off the “grid,” one of the most popular words in books and movies these days.

Once on the grid anyone can be found. Once a brain has data about locations it can do the same.

The potential for treating illnesses like Alzheimers cannot be overestimated.

The Nobel committee said the combination of grid and place cells "constitutes a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain. (This system is] affected in several brain disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer's disease.”

Having identified the system it is only a matter of time before scientists and doctors can find ways to repair and/or boost the GPS system.

Imagine a doctor being able to download, or upload, a new human navigational operating system.

O’Keefe is from the University College London and the Mosers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

“The discoveries of John O ́Keefe, MayBritt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries — how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?” the Nobel Committee said.

“The discovery of the brain’s positioning system represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how ensembles of specialized cells work together to execute higher cognitive functions,” the release said. “It has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning.”

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