Cerebrum Spring 2020


BOOKSHELF A few brain science books that have recently caught our eye

Troubling Regulatory Standards BY PHILIP M. BOFFEY O rdinarily, I would not base a column about a new stem cell treatment on a single dramatic case, or even a dozen cases, of clinical improvement. But an announcement by scientists at a Japanese medical school claimed such miraculous results in largely curing one man of spinal cord paralysis, and restoring some functioning to others, that it begs for close analysis. In 2015, a 47-year-old teacher who was high diving at a local pool hit his head on the bottom and damaged his spinal cord, leaving him mostly paralyzed. He was enrolled in a clinical trial of Stemirac, a new stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries, at Sapporo Medical University. He showed immediate improvement the next day and seven months later left the hospital under his own power. Although he remains clumsy, he can cook, drive, and teach math online. The stem cells used, known as mesenchymal stem cells, were isolated from his bone marrow, multiplied in the laboratory, and injected back into the bloodstream intravenously. The case has raised a fierce debate in scientific journals over the ethics of conducting the trial and reporting the results through the media, rather than a peer-reviewed scientific paper. There is no question that the procedure was legal under Japan’s relatively lenient approach to drug and therapy approvals. The process—and the questions it raises—is ably described in a comprehensive overview by Amos

The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains by Joseph LeDoux Behavioral scientists often compare the neurobiology of different animal groups (think rodents and flies, for example), searching for similarities and differences to further our understanding of human behavior. Certain ‘survival actions’—activities such as fluid balancing,

reproduction, eating, drinking—are so universal, says neuroscientist and Dana Alliance member Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., that they are exhibited by organisms predating nervous systems altogether, revealing just how early these behaviors manifested. Ambitious in scope, The Deep History of Ourselves (Penguin Random House) stretches back to protocells and the earliest microbial life, tracing behavior’s lineage from the simplest of origins in bacteria and protozoa. The content is grouped by theme, allowing readers direct access to the subject matter of their preference: survival and behavior, the dawn of complex organisms, vertebrates, neurons, cognition, consciousness, and emotion, just to name a few. An expansive work, The Deep History of Ourselves is a retrospective and welcoming journey for all seeking a better grasp on human behavior and self-awareness. l

Brain on the Web A few brain-related articles we recommend:

> OCD and anxiety disorder treatment can be complicated by coronavirus fears

> COVID-19: dealing with social distancing > A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis > From a doctor, a reminder to keep pushing on > Five years after a nasty crash, a symbolic layup for Josh Speidel


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