21st Century Cures Act will change lives for the better

Friday, July 17, 2015

Advances in biomedical and pharmaceutical research continue to occur at a dizzying pace. Yet the process of moving these discoveries out of the lab and into the real world where they can benefit people is frustratingly slow.

That could change very soon. In an encouraging show of bipartisanship, the House recently passed legislation — the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) — designed to speed the process from scientific discovery to health treatments and cures for people who need them.

As a researcher who has dedicated more than three decades to understanding, protecting and healing the brain, I know passage of this legislation will make a huge difference in people's lives. Throughout my career, I have been approached by individuals — returning war veterans, parents of teens who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, those suffering from Alzheimer's disease — who feel there is no hope of improvement for their brain health. 

Their pessimism may be based on outdated conventional medical wisdom that views the brain as static, fixed and unalterable. Thanks to neuroscience research and technological advances, we now know the reverse is true.

The brain continues to grow and change and retains the capacity to be repaired throughout our lives. New brain cells are made, new connections can be formed and old connections strengthened moment by moment in response to new experiences and new learning. The brain can even rewire systems long after an injury, after a brain setback, such as after chemotherapy or in the early stages of brain diseases like Alzheimer's — if the right intervention is applied.

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