The Neuro-Generation by Tan Le

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Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

This title, in itself, arrests the attention of the reader who is interested in the human brain, the most complex and unexplored area of the body, if not the planet. The book is a thriller of a very different nature, and, in under 300 pages, gives a glimpse of the advances made across the world which are dedicated to brain science and enhancing performance, curing disease and improving the plight of those who live with disability.

The author, Tan Le, is a brilliant and highly successful Neuro scientist who arrived in Australia as a refugee from Vietnam, having survived the perils of a boat journey. She is internationally recognised for her work; and her contact with other experts in the field have spurred her on to writing this book to increase awareness of the latest developments and trajectories in this area.

It is an enthusiastic account of how the limitless potential of the brain has inspired research in a variety of pathways.

Information is made more meaningful by her including individual cases where new ground has been broken.

Geoffrey is a neuropharmacist experimenting with substances that enhance brain performance. Several of these, including caffeine and green tea, do this. They are referred to as nootropics. Some manufactured ones significantly boost the memory of Seniors.  Diet and fasting and the effect on brain performance are scrutinised.

In America, the company Mindstrong, a tech firm, with computer interface will revolutionise the way we diagnose neuropsychiatric disorders, access care and measure the effectiveness of treatment.

In the NeuroGeneration, doctors may prescribe a video game as therapy for ADHD, PTSD, depression and acquired brain injury. Even early Alzheimer’s suffers could benefit.  Much maligned at the present day, video games could be a valued component of treatment in the future!

Adam, a neuroscientist in San Francisco, is designing games that target neural circuits and give them a boost. His version of video games is not just a challenge to hit the next level. His game, Neuro Racer, was given to Seniors. They played for an hour a day, three times a week for a month. There was a dramatic improvement in multi-tasking, as well as memory and attention. The great advantage digital therapy has over drugs, which are targeted to wide populations, is that the games can be individualised to increase the success of the treatment.

Cora, a lovely young girl, was severely injured in an accident. She was totally incapacitated. That changed ten years later when a neighbour appeared with a video game system that Cora could operate with her mind. Wearing a brain wave device and 14 small electrodes on her head, she made progress, even in the outside world. She began to interact with people by turning her head to listen to people and holding their gaze, having been depressed and withdrawn for years prior.   

Mario, a pianist, was able to master a Bach prelude 20% faster wearing headphones which sent waves to the neurons which controlled his fingers. This was achieved by practising 20 minutes a day for a week.

The company, Halo, has developed headsets that have improved the performances of elite athletes by as much as 20%. The same applies to San Francisco Giants, the US cycling team, and navy Seals. It must be pointed out that these results only occur with a high-quality training programme.

The blunt tool of ECT which delivers powerful electric currents to the brain will eventually be replaced by the tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) which will more sensitively affect the delicate electric activity of the brain.

Current study of the possibilities of treating disorders of the brain are constantly expanding.

The Karolinska Institute in Sweden developed the Gamma Knife which precisely focused radiation on a brain tumour, as early as 1977: but now, 200,000 patients in the US have received focused ultra sound to banish tumours at a fraction of the cost, and without surgery, radiation and associated side effects.  John Grisham, in his novel The Tumour, predicted this could happen in 2025.  For thousands, this is already a fact.

While still in the experimental phase, there is extensive work being done into the possibility of brain implants. This would solve the disadvantages associated with some disabilities. Millions could benefit in a health system where cost was not prohibitive. Even Australia’s generous Medicare would find this challenging, initially. Although long term costs would be eradicated.

The NeuroGeneration is a bountiful account of thrilling developments in brain research. I have touched on merely half – but it extends to Cyborgs, AI and brain repair tools.

It is a fascinating and absorbing read, fast-paced and well written.

Although the subject is highly complex, Tan Le relates the exciting future with clarity and awareness of the limitations of the general science loving public.  We had the Industrial Revolution followed by the current Tech Revolution.  Are we on the verge of the Neuro Revolution?

The NeuroGeneration

[2020]

by Tan Le

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 9 781760 87511 4      

$32.99; 269 pp

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