Why the 21st century will be the century of the brain

The prodigious progress of research in the field of the brain and the promises which follow from it have made some scientists say that the 21st century will be that of the brain.

This is one of the subjects that is particularly close to my heart, which is why our Jean-François and Marie-Laure de Clermont Tonnerre Foundation supports the international collaboration in the field of brain sciences carried out jointly by the SWC and the ELSC.

I find it fascinating to have to recognize the essential role of ensuring the proper functioning of our vital functions (heart rate, mobility, motor skills, decision-making, memory, consciousness, language …)

The most important organ of the human body, weighing nearly 1.3 kg, it is the control center of the human body, manager of all our actions and inactions, since it takes part in one way or another in our conjugation personal verbs to think, to dream, to move, to sleep.

Furthermore, all our actions and the perception that we have of them have a beginning and an end which inscribe them in a notion of space-time.

The brain brings this perception of actions into the field of consciousness and puts it into perspective simultaneously in the history and in the history of each: the cerebral rhythms are a reflection of this perfect synchronization.

It acts as a kind of processor in constant interaction with the rest of the nervous system, which receives and sends messages making possible uninterrupted communication between our “I” and the outside world.

When there is dysfunction of this processor we speak of neurodegenerative diseases, a scientific term which groups together the medical disorders identified as affecting the neurons themselves basic elements of the nervous system which includes the brain and the spinal cord.

One of the peculiarities of these neurons is that they do not divide and do not renew themselves: when they are damaged or die, it is irreversible.

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases are among the most infamous.

However, neuroscience continues to advance: understanding the cause and how these neurons die, as well as the discovery of neural stem cells in the brain capable of dividing to form new neurons, have led to numerous clinical applications instilling hope to counter the damage to our nervous system induced by stroke and spinal cord injury.

The first photographs of the living brain date only from the end of the 19th century.

– Thanks to imagery it has become natural to “see the brain thinking” live. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was born from the conjunction of computer performance and research advances in biology / physics / chemistry. The scanner is now a trivial examination. What is revolutionary about MRI is that it connects the activation of certain areas of our brain to states of consciousness. Who sees better, is able to treat better: 3D images allow practitioners not only to examine lesions and other tumors but also to detect any early damage caused by a stroke and therefore to adapt appropriate treatments .

– The sequencing of the human genome dates back to 2001, the product of a century of work in cellular and molecular biology, and gene therapy has raised many hopes. Pathological genes have been identified for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, allowing neurobiologists to understand the mechanisms and thus suggest targeted treatments for those that Jean de La Fontaine called “brain mad” in his fable Le miller, his son and the donkey.

– Scientists also speak of “plasticity” to define the process according to which the brain modifies its connections to apprehend new situations. Studying this process leads to an understanding of how learning and memory work and is synonymous with hope for stopping its decline.

– The recent discovery of molecules which condition the development of the nervous system has made it possible to apprehend certain disorders such as cerebral palsy: an identified problem can be solved .. and these advances can allow us to hope for the birth of new specific strategies to restore certain lesions, even certain defects in embryonic development of the functions of the brain or the spinal cord.

The convergence of work and research carried out throughout the world makes spectacular therapies emerging.

We are all in the hope that this work will lead to new diagnoses and adapted therapies, and even that they will prevent certain pathologies by precisely identifying risk factors in order to provide the necessary remedies.

This work and research is multidisciplinary and has already made it possible to significantly improve the treatment of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, dementia disorders and addictions.

But the brain remains a fragile organ and when we know that it is a life rich in diversified events and activities which is the most adapted to preserve and improve our faculties, that its stimulation passes through a social network and various cultural activities, it It is to be hoped that 2021 will allow us to resume very quickly a course of our lives which is favorable to the implementation of these instructions.

André Gide made another diagnosis sounding like a warning: “The heart as soon as it gets involved, numbs and paralyzes the brain…”

But that is another debate…