HOUSTON, April 27, 2007 It may seem easy to change your mind, but if it's your brain we're talking about, maybe it's harder than we think. A University of Houston professor is looking into this with research into something called 'brain plasticity.'
Valery Kalatsky, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Cullen College of Engineering at UH, is collaborating with Hubert Dinse, a cognitive neurobiology professor with Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, to predict the extent of recovery from brain injuries. Kalatsky has created a new device that more quickly and accurately reveals how "plastic," or adjustable, adult brains are. The duo's work is supported by a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Human Frontiers Science Program, an organization dedicated to bringing together scientists with expertise in different fields and from different parts of the world.
Brain plasticity is at its peak with infants, when brains are most capable of adjustment. Babies who suffer significant brain trauma, for example, may make near-complete recoveries, but adults with similarly severe injuries seldom recover as well. That's because babies' brains are in the process of organizing themselves and are able to assign tasks normally performed by the damaged areas to the still-functioning portions.
Because adult brains are already organized, they have much less plasticity and make much smaller adjustments when damaged. Recent research, however, has called into question the long-held dogma that the adult brain is almost "hard-wired," but there's no consensus on just how plastic it is, Kalatsky said.
Kalatsky and Dinse are working to measure systematically the level of adult brain plasticity by directly stimulating the visual cortex, which controls sight, and using an optical imaging device developed by Kalatsky to record changes in and around the stimulated areas.