This Week in Research: Rewiring the Brain and Fighting the Flu

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Strokes are frightening medical events that often result in lasting damage.   “Despite all of our approved therapies, stroke patients still have a high likelihood of ending up with deficits,” says Johns Hopkins neurologist Steven R. Zeiler. But recent, encouraging research out of Johns Hopkins has shown that the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself, post-stroke — and, in the process, regain lost functions.

Neurologists once considered the brain a place with a fixed geography — this area controls movement; this area manages the names of things. Under this model, once a region was damaged by a stroke or some other catastrophic event, those particular abilities would be lost forever. But recent research has revealed the incredible plasticity of the human brain.

Zeiler and his colleagues explored the brain’s ability to adapt by inducing strokes in the primary motor cortexes of mice. Predictably, the mice lost some ability to move certain muscles — but after just 48 hours of retraining, they regained comparably precise movement. The primary cortex was still damaged; instead, the movement was being regulated by the medial premotor cortex. The mice’s brains had adapted — suggesting that earlier and more aggressive rehab might help stroke-afflicted humans regain mobility more thoroughly and quickly.


Here’s some research you can actually participate in:  the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh to create a crowd-sourced survey of flu behaviors. (You can take the survey here.)

The hope is that by examining how people — especially schoolchildren — interact with others on a daily basis, researchers will have a more precise idea about how infectious diseases (like influenza) spread throughout a community. According to Derek Cummings, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, the study “will provide key information about mixing rates and patterns of encounters relevant to the spread of infections,” and thus help scientists and doctors determine how (and where) they can most effectively intervene.

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