Welcome to On the Brain

Welcome!  I am really excited about inaugurating the OHSU Brain Institute’s blog, “On the brain.”

OHSU is home to more than 1,000 scientists, clinicians, students, and research associates who are dedicated to studying the brain and treating people with brain diseases.  We consistently rank in the top five of research institutions receiving National Institutes of Health funding for brain research.  We have many nationally recognized neurologists, neurosurgeons, and psychiatrists who provide cutting edge care for brain diseases.  Most importantly, we work together as a team so that we can accelerate moving discoveries in the laboratory into the clinic so that Oregonians have access to the latest in diagnostic and therapeutic advances for brain diseases.  We call this team the OHSU Brain Institute.

As I sit at my computer typing this blog, I am performing an ordinary daily task effortlessly (well, maybe my keyboard skills wouldn’t be considered effortless).  But this ordinary task is extraordinary if you think about what is going on neurologically.  Various parts of my brain are forming thoughts and sentences. I am recalling memories and making analogies and rapidly putting together sentences to convey my thoughts and excitement.  Other parts of my brain are firing off, sending electrical impulses to my spinal cord and then out through nerves that control my fingers and hands.  Other impulses control my eye movements and head position as I look from the computer screen to the keyboard and back again.  All of this requires literally millions of nerve cells firing off in an integrated fashion.

But this beautiful, wonderful biologic computer we call the brain can be affected by so many diseases.  A blood clot in a vessel going to the brain can cause a stroke.  Nerve cells controlling memory may begin to slowly die, causing Alzheimer’s.  Other nerve cells controlling muscles may begin to slowly die and cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  I could go on and on with the diseases because there are thousands of diseases that affect the nervous system.  And so many of them would disrupt or even prevent completely my ability to type away effortlessly on my computer.

And the brain does not just allow thinking and communicating.  We make decisions with our brain.  We run and dance.  We feel love.  We enjoy music or sunsets.  We hug our children.  We cry and mourn at the death of a loved one.  We experience the world through the brain.  And diseases of the brain can affect these things just as much as they can alter typing on a keyboard.

Our mission at the Brain Institute is to understand the brain in health and disease and to seek ways to maintain brain health and to treat diseases of the brain.  I can think of nothing more important in the field of medicine.  Indeed, promoting brain health and curing brain diseases is the last great frontier in medicine.

So, in the coming months, members of the Brain Institute will be blogging here. Join in to learn about all the wonderful brain research and clinical care taking place at OHSU.  Find out what’s “On the brain.”

Dennis Bourdette, M.D., F.A.A.N
Chair, OHSU Brain Institute and OHSU’s Department of Neurology