During lecture, We briefly covered the plasticity of the brain. In other words, the ability of the brain to change its structure as new knowledge is obtained. The fact that experiences from our daily lives shape the structure of our brain is simply amazing. In order to understand this, think of an imprint of a coin on a piece of clay. The clay (your brain) has to physically change in order to take on the imprint of the coin. This process occurs during our entire lifetime. The type of plasticity taking place depends on the age and situation of the person. For example, very young children have nearly twice as many synapses per neuron. As they grow, weaker synapses are deleted through a process called synaptic pruning. Neurons need to have a function and purpose in order for them to exist without the threat of being "pruned". So not only does the brain build new pathways and structures, it also has the ability to break down structures that are deemed useless.
Neuroplasticity is also very prevalent in people who suffer from brain damage. In these cases, the brain not only tries to repair the damaged areas, but also maximizes other areas of the brain in order to make up for the loss of function. In one study, rats were given brain damage in particular areas of the brain. They found that cells surrounding the damaged areas actually changed their function and shape so that they could take on the functions of the damaged cells.
I'm obviously no doctor, but neuroplasticity seems like a likely source for finding new advancements in the treatment of brain damaged patients. Even with all the technology we have, brain damage is still deemed irreversible in many cases.
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John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Vanderbilt University Staff. Brain Plasticity, Retrieved July 28, 2002 from http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/kennedy/research/topics/plasticity.html
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