Neurotechnology is the science that combines advancements in medicine, gadgets and treatment to alleviate suffering in patients by learning how the brain interacts with the rest of the body. This technology also includes methodologies that are put in place to improve the functioning of the brain, consequently permitting researchers to study the brain. Neurotechnology has left an indelible mark in today’s society, but even with these advancements, some conditions have been found to affect an individual adversely even without their realization . Modernity in the science of the brain has made it possible to visualize various aspects of the brain and how they increase or reduce normal functioning of an individual. At this rate, developments in this field will make it possible for patients with neurological diseases to get treatment.
Public health on the other hand makes reference to the science of making better a communities’ health by providing forums where health is discussed. These forums provide an avenue for the public to discuss any issues they may be facing as well as providing practical solutions for these health problems. The public in this case maybe as few as just five persons or may stretch to a whole town. Public health is multi-facetted and usually encompasses community health, environmental health and conventional treatment among other fields. The primary goal of public health is to improve the public’s health by enhancing healthy behaviour patterns as well as intervening in the lives of persons with mental disorders. Public health, in recent times has witnessed the incorporation of specialists in different fields such as nutrition experts, nurses, physicians and dentists. In some unique way, public health is a modernized facet of human development. Some policies that are associated with public health however, have been known to brew controversy. This includes policies which touch on issues that are long term, policies whose effects can only be felt after a long time. A good example of this is the policy to breastfeed exclusively for six months so as to reduce child mortality. The effects of this policy cannot be quantified immediately, but need time to study the results. For the purpose of this topic however, the policies of interest will be those that are directly linked to neurotechnological treatment.
Neurotechnological treatment involves changing how the brain functions to suit the needs of the particular patient. This is two way and is usually categorized as either mechanical or surgical. Mechanical treatment of brain ailments is done by inserting brain stimulators in the patient, after which the patient is monitored to see whether their health is improving. This method sharply contrasts with the medical treatment where the patient is given medicine for the same purpose. Using neurotechnology, there are methods which have been developed to stimulate the brain using a magnetic field, or using the flow of electricity . Alternatively, this stimulation could be facilitated by the use of implants which replace the functions of the organs which have been damaged.
Deep brain stimulation is one of these methods. The principal of this type of stimulation is controlling erratic electric currents in the nervous system so that the brain’s functions are realized. In the past, disorders which resulted from uncontrolled electric currents in the brain, such as epilepsy were often treated by removal of the part of the brain that is concerned with that function. This has tremendously changed today because Deep Brain stimulation controls this by putting a small implant into the brain to prevent these short burst of electric current. The battery operated implant is roughly the size of a wrist watch without the straps. It functions by producing electrical currents directed at specific areas of the brain that control movement, thus inhibiting the nerve impulses that cause shaking in the patients. Prior to surgery, several tests are done on the patient to pinpoint the precise location where the erratic electrical signals originate from. This is carried out using magnetic resonance imaging, abbreviated MRI. It could also be achieved using Computed Tomography, or CT scanning. The target regions usually lie in the thalamus, the subthalamic nucleus and the globus pallidus.
The deep brain stimulation is made up of three major parts, namely the neurostimulator, the extension and the lead. The lead is a thin wire that is inserted just under the skin on the patient’s head through to the neck and into the brain where its tip is carefully placed at the target area of the brain that causes the exhibited symptoms. The neurostimulator on the other hand is the component of this device that contains the battery used to power it. It is inserted under a thin layer of skin around the collar bone. Sometimes, it is implanted at the distal region of the chest. Once this has been finalized, electrical messages originate from the neurostimulator and are transmitted through the wire and to the brain. These electric currents consequently inhibit nerve impulses that control movement.
This treatment is especially important for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. With this treatment, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are effectively reduced. These symptoms include, but are not limited to shaking, rigidity and problems in walking. Despite the fact that most patients will still need pharmaceutical intervention, a sizeable number of them will usually report a great reduction in the severity of their symptoms. This is highly individual, as is the resultant reduction in the medication taken. There is also the aspect of ethics in the use of deep brain stimulation as a treatment method (Giordano, 2010). Some people question the morality of this process and claim it is unnatural as it is ‘modifying’ how man was meant to be right from the beginning of time. Others claim that this technology may be misused by wayward doctors for their own financial gain by manipulating people. At the end of the day, it really is a question of necessity verses belief. Patients living with lifetime diseases find it difficult to cope, and sometimes go through periods of depression, leaving them feeling lonely and angry.
Parkinson’s disease is more challenging as it triggers chemical imbalances in the brain, leading to further depression. As he disease advances, communicating, walking and even feeding becomes very tedious. It is for this reason that patients with such diseases need support. Family is mostly present, but it helps to have a network of people who are going through the same challenges. This is where public health comes in handy. Public health officials usually convene support group meetings to enable the patients share their struggles, their challenges and their working strategies in a relaxed environment. This helps the patients encourage one another. The public health officials will also guide the patients in non-pharmaceutical methods that will help in reducing the severity of the symptoms. This includes informing the patients on the role diet plays in managing Parkinson’s disease, the use of supplements to manage the disease as well as the importance of rest and relaxation .
Research is being carried out to determine whether deep brain stimulation can be used in the treatment of other disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and addictions. Another method of neurotechnology treatment involves a technique known as brain mapping. This is the science of localizing bodily functions to specific regions in the brain. Neuroscientists make use of brain imaging to identify how the brain works in different tasks. To make this simpler, look at it from this point of view: it is well known that there is a part of the brain that deals with hearing, and another that deals with smell. In hearing, is there a select region of the brain that registers high pitched noises and another that registers low pitch noises? If so, what is the difference in the two? The answers to such questions are still a work in progress. Despite this, brain mapping has been used to study how the brain responds to changes in the external environment. Brain mapping has shown that people who are addicted to drugs are usually unable to resist these drugs due to interruptions in the brain’s control sensory regions.
It has been shown that the threshold in the brain that controls the urge to take drugs has been modified, and this has been directly related to alterations in the prefrontal cortex. This is a part of the brain that is responsible for evaluating and controlling characteristics in a person. It is this use of brain mapping that is significant in treating addictions, whether drug or alcohol addictions. The inter connection between the controlling behaviour and monitoring of the external environment has been established to be the root cause of relapsing after one has stopped drug addiction. Armed with this information, it is possible to give treatment for the particular cause of addiction. Brain activity is obtained through a process known as Quantitative Electroencephalography, abbreviated as qEEG Brain Mapping.
The data obtained is produced with distinct colours, with each separate colour showing a different activity in the brain. The patterns obtained from the addicts are then compared to those obtained from healthy persons with the same particulars, that is age and weight. The differences are displayed as deviations in the brain map. Using these deviations and the data collected the rehab centre then establishes an appropriate mode of treatment. This is done to enhance the normal functioning of the parts of the brain involved in behaviour, speech and interaction. This technique has been used successfully in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and substance abuse. The importance of public health in the use of brain mapping as the first line of treatment is that it provides emotional support to the affected persons. This ranges from anonymous meetings for addicts to visiting the rehab centre. Public health officials will often assist the patients to receive psychological treatment which in effect, aids the individual to stop their addiction and prevent relapse. The ultimate goal for the addicts is to break off addiction completely and revert back to leading a healthy productive life.
The link between neurotechnology and public health
Public health is not a single entity, but encompasses various fields which come together for the sole purpose of preventing suffering in a population. Public health also implements policies that enforce preventive strategies for neurological diseases. Primary prevention is the first of these policies. These are measures that are put in place to inhibit the progress of the disease to specific regions of the brain. This is achieved through vaccination, for example against polio, a debilitating disease that causes paralysis. There are also policies that implement measures to reduce the intake of alcohol as well as substance abuse. The government, through the Ministry of Public Health, is charged with the responsibility of leading health campaigns to create awareness on the dangers of excessive intake of alcohol .
Secondary prevention involves early and precise detection followed by the right treatment. Detection in the case of neural disorders is achieved by using magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. The first line of treatment is the use of neurostimulators for Parkinson’s disease as described above. For Alzheimer’s disease, yet another neurological disorder, the treatment lies in managing the symptomatic characteristics of the patient. Public health specialists are also required to offer pharmaceutical intervention to the patients as this drastically reduces the symptoms. Tertiary prevention is the last line of treatment used alongside neurotechnology. This usually entails rehabilitation as is the case with drug and alcohol addicts, palliative care for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients as well as the formation of support groups. This treatment option aims to make the patients as independent as possible and tries to integrate them back into society. The public health specialists drawn from the various fields are also at hand to offer counselling to enable the patients lead a stress free life. When both neurotechnology and public health fields are brought together, it is an endless world of opportunities to treat various disorders, and if this is not viable, at the very least, reduce the amount of pain and suffering the patients go through.
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Church, G. G. (2007). Living Well with Parkinson's Disease: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell YouThat You Need to Know. New York: Harper Collins.
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Giordano, J. (2012). Neurotechnology: Premises, Potential, and Problems. Virginia: CRC Press.
Giordano, J. (2010). Scientificand Philosophical Perspectives in Neuroethics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Liaison, O. o. (2012, february 7). NINDS Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson's Disease Information Page. Retrieved october 2, 2012, from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/deep_brain_stimulation/deep_brain_stimulation.htm