Friday, June 17, 2011

Software as Medicine

If the improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) is the signature weapon of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, then traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.) is the emblematic malady. It's exhausting, controversial, vaguely defined, hard to treat, and expensive. And shock waves of human suffering emanate from each case. Even its mildest form can cause memory, sleep,  and concentration problems, depression, alienation, and often PTSD-like anxiety attacks. Suicide rates among T.B.I. patients are high. Epilepsy is much more common among patients with even mild brain injuries. So too are unemployment, divorce, and domestic violence.

Posit Science's Mike Merzenich has long thought that brain training software programs could be ideal tools not only for sharpening aging brains, but also for fixing damaged ones. They get into the brain through the senses and engage it to make incremental changes in neuronal structure that cumulatively amount to a  medical intervention. That's the idea anyway.  A story of mine in today's New York Times looks at a new Department of Defense study of Posit's software to try to help veterans with traumatic brain injury to recover lost cognitive function.  Posit's software is also being studied by Sophia Vinogradov at UCSF for its effectiveness treating schizophrenia. More about that story soon. 


MaoClare said...

Good story. And sad. These men - no, boys - coming back from a senseless war and being turned over to machines. I know that's not the point of the story - and the idea of brain plasticity IS fascinating and gives a ray of hope, but the photo of the young veteran that leads this story tells all we need to know about this war. Tragic.

The Author said...

Good point. There is an aspect of the story I couldn't get into in the NYT piece: the brain fitness software might work--let's hope so--but it is a lonely and mechanical way to address such profound injuries in young men and women.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

The wonders of technology and progress is hopeful, and I do agree it is a no sense war that will leave many victims.