Sunday, March 13, 2005

USNews.com: Paul Thompson's mind movies

USNews.com: Paul Thompson's mind movies (3/21/05):

Paul Thompson has brains. Lots of them. The 33-year-old has degrees in Greek and Latin, mathematics, and neuroscience, and a colleague calls him 'the smartest person I know.' But we're not just talking about smarts. Thompson really does have lots of brains--about 7,000 at last count.

To see them, step out of the bright Southern California sunshine and into the dark confines of the Reed neurology building at the University of California-Los Angeles, where Thompson has his office and lab. There, in a room behind a heavy glass panel, is a large, humming black computer, and inside are brain images captured by high-tech medical scanners: young brains, old brains, autistic brains, Alzheimer's brains, schizophrenic brains, drug addicts' brains, and a whole bunch of normal ones. 'My brain is in there somewhere,' Thompson says.

Yet individuality is not what Thompson is interested in. He's mapping brain diseases in large groups of people. By constructing incredibly detailed 3-D images of brains with Alzheimer's and then combining them, he has been able to trace the typical path of the disease and show just how it ravages different parts of the brain over time. Now scientists can see which structures get damaged when--and also see which drugs might keep that damage at bay. In schizophrenia, Thompson's maps have pinpointed a brain region involved in understanding sounds as the first part to be hurt; a common symptom of this mental disorder is hearing voices. His maps are part of a current study of how new and older antipsychotic drugs shield this brain region. 'We've never before been able to show these links between brain changes and behavior,' says Jay Giedd, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. 'So these maps are incredibly powerful.'"

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