Active neuron cells in the brain

Neuroplasticity the science behind rewiring the brain

1 June 2016

An expert panel will explore the science behind neuroplasticity and dispel common myths at a public forum at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 1 June.

Explainer: What is neuroplasticity?

“Neuroplasticity refers to the biological changes that occur in the brain in response to a change in the real world or a new experience,” said Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela, panel member and Head of the Regenerative Neurosciences Group at the University’s Brain and Mind Centre.

“It’s quite a complex concept but we see neuroplastic changes – often referred to as the brain ‘re-wiring’ or forming new connections - occurring from experiences as simple as learning to juggle or practising yoga.”

“It becomes important when the brain is under threat or stress from diseases like Alzheimer’s or a traumatic brain injury, because that’s when we can apply the principles of neuroplasticity to try and stimulate different parts of the brain to regain some of the functionality that has been lost.”

The University’s Brain and Mind Centre is at the forefront of this field, with recently published research showing for the first time that interventions like computerised brain training or exercise therapy can induce changes in different regions of the brain. These findings could inform further development of dementia prevention programs in future.

However, Associate Professor Valuenzuela cautions against claims of miracle cures.

“While it is a hugely exciting area of research and counters everything we thought prior to 20thcentury medical advances, we are still just starting to get a grasp on the scientific principles of neuroplasticity and how it can be used in conditions ranging from neurodegenerative diseases to mental health.”

“And it’s not a miracle cure – it can’t fix every disease or injury to the brain, so what our research aims to do it to understand it scientifically to the level that we can deliver interventions to the right patient, at the right time – just like we would any other medicine.”

The expert panel form the University of Sydney includes:

The event, Neuroplasticity: the science behind rewiring the brain is part of the 2016 Sydney Ideas Health Forum series.

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