- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (January 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743291425
- ISBN-13: 978-0743291422
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 67 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Other Brain: The Scientific and Medical Breakthroughs That Will Heal Our Brains and Revolutionize Our Health 1st Edition
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For a hundred years, since Camillo Golgi developed an efficient method of studying brain tissue under the microscope, the specialized brain cells called neurons have been the de facto stars of neuroscience. With the capability for observing live electrical signals between neurons and their associated synapses, it has been assumed that neurons form the cellular wiring that houses the mind. Now, as researcher Fields illustrates in this fascinating overview of contemporary neuroscience, a new and equally vital team of costars in brain functionality is emerging: glial cells, or, simply, glia. Once deemed valuable only as “packing material” or nutritional support for neurons, glia are being recognized for their critical role in everything from childhood learning to mental illness. In 16 absorbing and accessible chapters, Fields gives life to a potentially dry medical topic by eavesdropping on the work of other neuroscientists, past and present, and shows how penetrating glia's secrets offers hope for breakthroughs in healing Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, and even spinal cord injuries. Highly recommended, especially to science lovers and medical professionals. --Carl Hays --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The Other Brain offers an insightful, complex, and nuanced picture of the most interesting substance on earth: the matter inside our heads.”
—Anthony Doerr, The Boston Globe
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Dr. Fields starts his book by describing how Albert Einstein's brain has an abundance of glial cells compared to the average human brain. He wonders if this trend can be related to his extraordinary intelligence. This finding introduces the main concept of glial cells potentially being more than just "neural glue" in the brain and how we can use them to treat disease. In the beginning chapters of his book, he gives the reader a brief introduction to glial cells and the history of how these cells were discovered. He discusses the difference between astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia and also the many important scientists who discovered them, such as Ramon y Cajal. He also gives a broad overview of neurons, which introduces the reader to Field's own work. He found that glial cells could respond to action potentials in neurons by increasing calcium concentrations inside themselves.
This introduction into glial cells gives the reader the proper background information to understand the more difficult research topics that Fields discusses in his book. For example, he discusses how tumors of glial cells can be the cause of brain cancer and glial cell scars in spinal cord injury can prevent the axons from growing and reconnecting, which can prevent recovery from a severed spinal cord, or paralysis. Fields also discusses evidence that glial cell are important in prion-based diseases, schizophrenia and different neurodegenerative disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In these cases, there can be an inflammatory response by microglia causing Alzheimer's, an imbalance of glial cells causing schizophrenia, abnormal astrocytes in Parkinson's disease patients, and an attack on the own cells oligodendrocytes that triggers MS. By changing how these glial cells act and respond in the body, we may be able to cure and treat these ailments in the future.
After reading The Other Brain, I came away very interested in the future of glial cell research. I had never known that they could have such a huge impact in many health problems that affect us. This was an informative book that kept me interested throughout reading it. I felt that Fields gave an appropriate amount of background information to properly allow the reader to understand the gist of what he was trying to cover in his book. For example, without prior knowledge of microglia, a layperson would never know that they are important in the immune/inflammatory response in the brain, which is important in diseases such as Alzheimer's. The research he provides is also detailed enough and provides ample evidence for potential cures for diseases in the future. All of the findings that he discussed were exciting and elicited a feeling of hope for the revolution of medicine. For example, his chapter on brain and spinal cord injury provides enough research findings to give the reader hope that a cure is within reach through glial cell manipulation. Also, his writing style kept me engaged throughout reading the book. I felt like all of his topics were organized in a way to keep me wanting to learn more and they were concise enough to keep me interested.
I was also appreciative that Fields discussed topics that are very relevant in today's society. Because he chose brain cancer, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's among others, he caught my attention from the moment I picked up the book. People hear about these ailments everyday and by integrating glial cells into these topics, he kept me wanting to read more to see how these cells can help the many people affected.
However, this book was not without its flaws. There were some instances where he deviated from the research findings by putting too much non-scientific detail into a certain topic. For example, he talks for a long time about how Dr. Carlton Gajdusek, a researcher in prion disorders, stayed many years in the jungle to try and research the disease he was trying to cure and the many hardships he endured. This was unneeded information and an entire chapter basically described his experience in the jungle. Also, the scientifically literate may not necessarily value the background information on glial cells that Fields provides. This introductory information, which is essential for laypeople, makes the beginning of the book slightly stale for people who know about the nervous system. He could have foreshadowed the main topics of research in the introduction to keep more informed readers engaged.
Overall, this was a fantastic read and I would recommend it to anyone studying the field of neuroscience or anyone who is interested the potential future of how we treat neural disorders. This is a very interesting and easy to read book that tells the story of the potential future of medicine. Any reader will want to keep reading to find out what exciting discovery comes next all while gaining a valuable education in the growing field of neuroscience.
In sixteen chapters Dr. Fields writes about the progress glial research has made over the years and the many questions that still remain. Our understanding of glial cells has evolved from viewing them as a relatively minor footnote in neuroscience to being suspected of coordinating cognitive processes such as memory formation, and consciousness itself. Glia cells have a profound effect on the brain whether they are working to repair damaged neurons, promote peak transmission or when they malfunction and result in various diseases. Most importantly Dr. Fields really gives the reader a view of what is possible for the future with advances in our understanding of glial cells.
The Other Brain begins by building a foundation of knowledge about the nervous system including neurons and the early research of the neuroscience field. Fields explains the biological processes that take place at the neural synapses, such as reuptake, synaptic transmission and the release of neurotransmitters. The types of Glial cells, (Schwann cells, astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes) are well established within the first few chapters along with the stories of how they were discovered. We also get a firsthand account of Fields' own breakthrough research that revealed that glial cells do respond to action potentials propagated in neurons.
The real meat of this book is the advances that have been made in glial cell research. The glial cells were first taken to be only support cells and the proverbial "glue" of the brain to later being recognized for their importance in many long reaching processes in cognition such as aging and learning. What I found the most interesting was the two sides of glia, how when they mutate they can cause widespread disease with fatal consequence. Diseases such as brain cancer and multiple sclerosis are caused almost exclusively by malfunction of glial cells. Diseased glia are also linked to infectious diseases such as HIV, prion disease; degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's; and psychotic diseases like Schizophrenia, and Bipolar Disorder.
On the other hand glial cells are often responsible for medical miracles, like a person with a traumatic head injury waking up from a coma after years. Glia are responsible for protecting and repairing the brain, and these qualities are the focus of some of the most exciting studies in glial research. Scientist are learning more about glial cells every day, but one of the major focuses of this research is the manipulation of glia. Fields explains in the book that if we can learn how to manipulate glial responses then we can form treatments for paralysis, patients with MS, or any of the diseases caused by glial cells. The brain also goes over alteration this could have on the cognitive mechanisms glial cells are thought to control such as memory and learning.
The Other Brain is a wonderful read that gives an intensive education on glia and the progressive research surrounding the subject. From a purely informational standpoint this book was sensational. I was intrigued by glial cells and how they impact so many facets of the nervous system, not only helping neurons but controlling the flow of information from the synapse. The beginning was a little slow for anyone with an in-depth knowledge of the nervous system, but it was a good description of neurons and an especially detailed introduction to glial cells. Even though the beginning introduces basic concepts of the nervous system I would encourage scientifically knowledgeable readers to accept the review because it sets a good foundation for later chapters. When talking about glial cells the author paints a clear and concise foundation for the reader that he steadily builds on throughout the book. Although Fields outlines the diseases that are caused by defects in glial cells he also makes the reader excited and hopeful about future cures that glial research can bring. For example my favorite chapter explained the strides that are being made to reestablish neural communication in patients who are paralyzed through manipulation of glial cells.
Even in the beginning of The Other Brain I was worried about the writer's organization, not halfway into the first chapter Dr. Fields switches subjects from an introduction of glial cells to the examination of the legendary Albert Einstein's brain. The author continues this haphazard writing style skipping from topic to topic and joining unlikely subjects into the same chapter. It is frustrating for the reader to switch subjects in the middle of an idea or an especially interesting example of glial research. These switches are even worse because the author makes no effort to connect the preceding idea with the current idea making the flow of the book erratic and at points painfully slow.
A drawback in The Other Brain was Dr. Fields' narration would often include superfluous excerpts that withdrew from the scientific subjects discussed within the book. The writer's biographical excerpts on the lives of prominent neuroscientists were often overly filled with personal facts that had little to do with their contributions to science. I found these narratives unnecessary diversions from the actual breakthroughs and experiments relating to glial cells. For example the letters that describe the interagency politics, financial obstacles and accessibility issues Dr. Gajdusek faced while fighting the kuru epidemic, most of these letters gave the reader no information about the actual disease, or the tests done to diagnose the mysterious outbreak.
Another problem I had with the author's writing style was that sometimes the pace of his narrative would be slow to a crawl because of overly-detailed descriptions of unimportant features of the story. While explaining the research that discovered a correlation between death of glial cells in the ear and hearing loss Fields' fixates on the electron microscope used to view the glial cells. Fields' goes on to describe the structure of the microscope in excruciating detail totally putting the reader to sleep. Altogether the author's writing styles was disorganized and slow moving, the core information he conveyed was fascinating. I would love to listen to any lecture on glial cells Dr. Fields gives but I do not think I will be reading anymore of his books, and I give The Other Brain a four out of five.
The information on schizophrenia and depression a little weak, but still a tremendously helpful book for mental health practicioners.
I was amazed how well the book was written and how comprehendible the context was. My professional background is in fashion design, which as far as you can get form neuroscience. The book enlightened my understanding of brain functions as well as the level of advancement in the field.
Glad to have read this book and await more form the author!
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