The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded on October 6th, 2014 to three scientists who have identified certain cells in the brain that work together to create and guide your body’s global positioning system. For centuries, philosophers, scientists, and medical doctors have speculated about how humans are able to orient ourselves in our environment. The work of Nobel winners, John O’Keefe, May-Britt and Edvard Moser shows that the brain actually creates internal maps of the world around you and that this happens on a cellular level.
While this discovery marks an important shift in the way we understand the brain, you may be wondering what kind of practical applications this information might have. It turns out that these cells are the first to be attacked during the onset of Alzheimer’s and different types of dementia. Those with degenerative brain diseases can become easily lost and disoriented due to the loss of these spatial cells.
Beyond this new discovery, there is relatively little known about the brain and the diseases that attack the brain. We do know that certain behaviors, lifestyle choices and brain injuries can increase your chances of suffering from dementia and speed up the progression of the disease. However, there is still no clear, singular cause and no cure. Some medications have been proven helpful in easing the symptoms for a limited number of patients, but there have been few significant
strides in combating this disease.
This latest breakthrough means that scientists are closer than ever to understanding and decoding the complicated system of wiring and circuits that control the brain. All three recipients will continue their work in this line of inquiry and hopefully benefit from the additional funding and publicity that comes with winning a Nobel Prize.