Rafael Yuste: The brain is the sanctuary of the mind; dark corner of medicine

Raul Casado

Madrid, February 29 (EFE).- It is the “sanctuary of the mind”, where people’s personality and identity reside, but the brain is also the “dark corner of medicine”, the only organ whose functioning has not yet been properly understood. taken, although the latest advances put neuroscience before a “revolution”.

These arguments come from the Spanish neurobiologist Rafael Yuste, professor and director of the Neurotechnology Center at Columbia University (United States) and one of the main promoters of the “Brain” project, which was promoted and continued by the administration of Barack Obama. Has gone. Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s laboratories include 550 laboratories around the world with a budget of approximately $6 billion.

He interrupts the teaching and research activity carried out for twenty years in the United States to present in Madrid the thesis that he has prepared – at the request of the Congress of Deputies – together with twenty other experts in neuroscience, neurotechnology and bioethics. on advances in neuroscience and their ethical implications, and analyzed these advances and challenges in an interview with EFE.

Rafael Yuste explains how neurotechnology is already helping to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or stroke, but also how it can change personality, how it can be used to extract confidential data, and a person’s cognitive abilities. What can be improved is how capable it is of understanding images or imaginary words or interfering with free will.

And in front of other colleagues, whenever it comes to combating the pathologies associated with brain diseases, he shamelessly defends the importance of the use of all tools, including artificial intelligence or the emergence of private companies. “Technology is always neutral; the problem arises when the use of neurotechnology goes beyond medicine and is used for commercial purposes in the general population.”

Or appreciate the achievement achieved by the company “Neuralink”, owned by billionaire Elon Musk – by implanting a chip in the human brain that is able to “read” neuronal activity and restore brain functions damaged as a result of a heart attack. Helps. Or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, although with a nuance, taking into account that it is not at all new and that brain-computer interfaces have been used for twenty years in many countries, including Spain.

Neurobiologists say both new diagnostic tests that will allow early detection of these diseases, and new treatments that work not on symptoms but on causes – some have already been approved in the United States. and may be approved by the EU in the coming months – “the beginning of what is going to be a revolution”.

Because increased life expectancy will lead to one in three people suffering from a degenerative disease associated with aging, and neurotechnology – he says – will give researchers, doctors and psychiatrists the “key” to solving the puzzles of the brain and “getting into” it. will provide. “This organ helps patients.

Challenges? “many”. This technology would make it possible to intervene in a person’s brain to fight the disease and slow it down, “but also to act for purposes that are not really beneficial,” the researcher said, and at that point noted its importance. Emphasis is placed on having “clear” rules of the game which are always consistent with humanitarian values ​​and human rights.

Rafael Yuste suggests the importance of drafting bills protecting “neurorights” and “brain data”, legislative initiatives for the protection of brain activity that are already in place in several countries (Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico or the US state of Colorado In) has been implemented. All personal information that can be extracted from it.

And it differentiates the use of technologies that are within the reach of neurosurgeons only, “which are fully regulated as medical devices”, from other technologies that go beyond the medical field, which are permitted by large for recreational use. Marketed through digital and e-commerce platforms (glasses, headbands, bands, headphones or bracelets) that lack any type of regulation, but can also be used to access neural data that can then be Can be marketed in.

The Madrid neuroscientist said during the interview that the challenges of medical research are still many (cancer, heart disease, etc.) but also that the brain is “the dark corner of medicine”, because it is the only organ whose physiology has not yet been worked out. . It has been understood. Understands.

“Not understanding the physiology of an organ means that doctors, psychiatrists and neurologists struggle heroically with their hands tied, as they try to fix a machine they do not know how to work. “

And he concluded that illuminating this “dark corner” is the main current medical challenge to uncover all the mysteries that still exist about the brain and its functioning and, above all, to be able to help “millions of patients who See us every day.” Asking for help”. EFE

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