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A Boy Lost One-Sixth of His Brain, But He Remarkably Managed To Adapt

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 1 2018, 19:38 UTC

This fMRI image shows the area of the brain that's active during voluntary action. Parashkev Nachev/Creative Commons

Four years ago, doctors made the daring decision to remove a sixth of a 6-year-old boy’s brain in the hopes of controlling his violent seizures. The boy – known as “UD” – is now free of seizures. But perhaps even more incredibly, his surgery has highlighted the truly remarkable capabilities hidden inside the human brain. 

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Following a series of increasingly intense seizures, doctors decided to carry out a lobectomy. This involved surgically removing the boy’s entire occipital lobe and part of his temporal lobe, which accounts for a third of his brain's right hemisphere, including its main hub for processing vision.

A new study, published in the journal Cell Reports, has documented the boy’s recovery and his new life with five-sixths of a brain. Three years after the surgery, he is still unable to see on his left side. However, despite missing vital parts of his visual processing system, he can perform the visual tasks usually carried out by the missing lobes in the right hemisphere, such as recognizing faces and objects.  

It appears that UD’s brain has accounted for the missing lobes and managed to "rewire" itself.

UD’s left and right hemispheres. The dotted line indicates where the lobe parts were removed. Carnegie Mellon University.

“These findings provide a detailed characterization of the visual system's plasticity during children's brain development," study author Marlene Behrmann, professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement"They also shed light on the visual system of the cortex and can potentially help neurologists and neurosurgeons understand the kind of changes that are possible in the brain."

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The researchers used fMRI brain scans to track his progress and evaluate how he performed complex visual functions, such as processing faces, objects, and words. Much to their surprise, UD’s left hemisphere appeared to carry the workload of both hemispheres. Furthermore, his IQ has remained above average and his language and visual-perception skills are spot-on for a kid his age.

However, other lower-order functions were unable to recover, leaving him unable to process visual information coming from his left side. 

“The only deficit is that he can not see the entire visual field. When he is looking forward, visual information falling on the left side of the input is not processed, but he could still compensate for this by turning his head or moving his eyes,” Behrmann said.

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Although lobectomy procedures are rare, the researchers on this project argue that UD's unbelievable recovery could open the door to more neural procedures with further research.

“More needs to be done to understand which lobectomy patients will show recovery, which will not and why not,” she said. 

Besides that, this work is another incredible display of how powerful and adaptable the human brain really is.


  • brain,

  • visual system,

  • vision,

  • sensory system

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