This month Georgina Malingambi is back to tell us about how we can be more in control of both our physical and mental health than traditional medicine has led us to believe. The ultimate in personalised medicine is having the power ourselves to stay well. If you are new to the blog, Georgina is based in Northern Queensland, Australia, and has over 20 years’ experience in Psychiatry (worked with Tara in Darwin 10 years ago) and an MSc in Forensic criminology. She has contributed to The Unlimited Blog on a wide range of neuroscience topics and continues to inspire and challenge us with her ideas.
Personalised medicine isn’t a new concept. Hippocrates combined an assessment of the four humours – blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile- to determine best course of treatment. 2000 years later, add in technology and wearable technology and we are still trying to detect and treat diseases on an individual basis. With the rapid advances in high tech knowledge we enter another level: that of early disease prevention, which is to trying to intervene in pathological trajectories even ‘before’ they develop into specific disease patterns.
With the use of wearable tech and the future of personalised medicine, we are now able to rewrite, (and rewire) our destiny so we can become conscious co-creators of our future health and not victims of our programming. Historically the focus has been on mapping brain structure, but now the focus is how those structures are wired together, what the connections are and how they function. This ‘wiring map’ is broadly called a ‘connectome’, and it is here any disruptions, increases or decreases in these connections which lead to a wide range of diseases and mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s and anxiety. What was once viewed as an untraceable ‘hairball tangle’ of neural activity is now a traceable street map. It is this big city map that also relates to our mental abilities like memory storage, self control and decision making. Being able ‘look up’ any abnormal brain circuitry in our wiring maps, allows us to pinpoint issues, not unlike road blocks and traffic flow that we see on our roads. It is here in these connections that we can better identify bio markers for early detection and fine tune subsequent personalised therapies and treatments. This neural activity can change our connectomes, change our mind maps, which according to Dr. Seung of MIT is where nature meets nurture, and that it might just be true that just the mere act of thinking can change your connectome. And as connectomes and associated with gene expression networks, there is no more blaming my genes for not fitting in my jeans.
For example, stress is a part of our everyday lives, and we know prolonged periods of high levels are linked to disease. Through the process of ‘perception’ of stress, the brain interprets environmental signals and in response releases the regulatory chemicals into the blood. This chemistry is what controls the behaviour and genetic activity of our cells. When the mind perceives a safe environment, our cells are focusing on growth and maintenance. When stressed the focus is shifted to the protection mode of cells. If chronically stressed, the cells are chronically using their energy for protection instead of maintenance. This diversion in function always ends in disease. The way we ‘perceive’ our environment, is what controls our health and fate.
According to cell biologist Bruce. H. Lipton PhD and author of Happiness Genes, the principle source of stress are ‘misperceptions’ that have been programmed into the mind. He likens the mind to a driver of a vehicle: good driving skills and the vehicle heads towards wishes and desires from 1-5% of the day. The remaining time, our lives are controlled by habit programmes downloaded into the subconscious mind. The programmes are downloaded by observing parents, siblings, teachers and the community. He concluded that 95% or more of our lives is programmed by others. When we become more conscious, we rely less on subconscious programmes and also have the ability to rewrite limiting, disempowering beliefs formally downloaded into the subconscious mind.
Wearable tech can be monitored remotely like Emotiv, a wireless headset that allows you to collate data, (detection algorithms) on stress levels and when you are the most engaged which would then in turn help you to improve performance at work or carrying out every tasks. We can monitor sleep in our beds which is useful in managing insomnia, especially as some people suffering from the condition have difficultly in accurately estimating how much sleep they are actually getting. What was once available in the lab or hospital is now in our home and in our smart phones.
So what else could we be wearing in future? Microsofts proposed ‘mood shirt’ that has inbuilt sensors in the clothes that read the wearers heart rate, skin temperature and measures movements and responds by stimulating their nervous system in a way that cheers us up or calms us down. (Depending on colour and cut of course)
Dr. Sebastian Seung, and the lab at MIT who developed ‘EyeWire’, a 3D game designed to actually map neural circuitry in a fun game available to everyone.
With the milestones for neuroscience and technology, we also need to ponder the ethics of privacy and the real possibility of a digital hostage situation. The ability to record the unique ebbs and flows of our neural pathways, is not unlike a fingerprint. And as forensic neuroscience tells us that the activity measured in various areas of the brain can potentially make you confess your thoughts against your will. Intellectual property theft has a new meaning, with priceless information available for businesses such has pharmaceuticals and insurance. It’s all worth thinking about!