Make the Invisible Visible

Finger and fMRI

The Avielle Foundation is meeting with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today, June 4th, 2103.

As scientists, we frequently ask ourselves “blue sky” questions – trying to assess what an ideal world or situation would look like.  In our meeting with OSTP we want to brainstorm what technologies will become available to uncover the hard to reach secrets of the brain?  Taking a lesson from history, we can imagine it on par with the invention of the compound microscope, built by Anton von Leeuwenhoek.  Using his new microscope, Leeuwenhoek discovered what he called “animalcules” and what we now know to be single cell microorganisms – bacteria (VISIBLE).  The discovery of bacteria brought a thunderous and intensive focus, a full-blown paradigm shift, to the scientific and medical landscape of what caused diseases.  Robert Koch, the father of modern bacteriology, created 4 postulates.  These famous principles linked bacteria to specific diseases (VISIBLE), and thereby made obsolete the predominant Miasma Theory of Disease which held that diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and plague were caused by bad air (INVISIBLE).  What is the key importance of these discoveries?  Leeuwenhoek made the invisible visible and Koch made the visible understandable.

Our nation is at a historic technologically driven scientific crossroads where it is possible to make brain disease visible and understandable.  President Obama’s initiative to map the human brain is a great start.  But it will require some “blue sky” and innovative thinking before it leads to impactful discoveries and paradigm shifts.  To be sure, new technologies are being developed at an amazing pace.  We have functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans that provide invaluable insights to the brain’s previously impenetrable black box filled with inaccessible secrets.  However, these technologies are expensive, inaccessible, and/or fail to provide sufficient temporospatial resolution.  Now is the time to begin thinking outside the box, in innovative and novel ways to correlate behavioral markers with biochemical and genetic markers to facilitate the diagnosis of brain maladies with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity (VISIBLE).  Once we understand the correlation between the behavioral and biochemical components of brain diseases, it becomes possible to define efficacious treatment regimens for patients (VISIBLE).  In other words, we need innovative technologies that will pave the way to making brain maladies understandable.  The term mental (INVISIBLE) health will become obsolete like the Miasma Theory of Disease.

Today we meet with OSTP’s Dr. Maya Shankar, Senior Policy Advisor for Social and Behavioral Sciences, and her innovative colleagues.  The Avielle Foundation will begin a creative and ongoing dialogue with the OSTP to inspire and support our nation’s scientists to conduct intensive research into the brain health pathologies that lead to violent behaviors; and to support the development of innovative technologies which will lead to sensitive, affordable, and readily accessible diagnostics for brain health pathologies.

Click here for the OSTP’s Mission

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