Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer
A child’s brain that repaired itself after surgery
A story of a boy whose brain repaired itself after neurosurgery tells us that there is a lot that we still don’t know about our brains. The key findings of his case were recently published in the journal Cell Reports.
The boy (who remains anonymous) started suffering from seizures when he was four years old. The fits were caused by a localised brain tumour in his right hemisphere. As the epilepsy was getting worse, his parents decided he needed to undergo a lobectomy – a procedure to remove the focal point of his seizures without affecting other parts of the brain.
The operation – which the boy had at the age of six – removed the tumour alongside his entire occipital lobe (visual processing centre) and most of his temporal lobe (responsible for processing sound, taste, touch and sight).
What is fascinating about this case study is that as doctors and scientists observed the boy over the years, they saw his brain “rewire” itself. They witnessed the left hemisphere taking on the functions normally performed by the missing regions such as recognising faces.
The boy's vision remains partially affected as a result of the operation but both his cognitive and visual functions are intact.
The case gives as an insight into brain plasticity (its ability to change throughout a person’s life) but also reminds us how little is still known about the brain. Understanding how it functions will not only benefit neuroscience but also help us comprehend the abnormalities and what can potentially lead to formation of brain tumours.
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We’re also co-hosting a workshop to bring together the neuroscience and brain tumour research communities so that UK based cases like this can result in shared learning across the disciplines, for the benefit of all.