‘Seize the brain’: Prof visits old school Kearsney

2013-08-03 00:00

CARPE Diem, “seize the day”, is the Kearsney College motto, but after yesterday’s visit from Professor Henry Markram it’s likely to change to “seize the brain”.

Based in Lausanne, Switzerland Markram is founder of the Brain Mind Institute, founder and director of the Blue Brain Project, as well as co-ordinator of the Human Brain Project. He also happens to be a Kearsney College old boy and this was a first visit to the school in Botha’s Hill from which he matriculated in 1980.

Markram (51) told an assembly of pupils and teachers that human beings and their brains are “only six minutes old in the context of the universe … we are still evolving; what will we be like in seven minutes?”

Paying tribute to his old school, Markram said he began thinking about the brain in biology lessons. “I thought about brain diseases, depression and schizophrenia, and then began to think about personality and how it can be so flexible.”

Markram likened the brain to a massive grand piano.

“You can create a symphony with it; a life-long symphony that you start playing at birth and that keeps on evolving. The brain is never the same. It can go in a great direction or a terrible direction. We can shape our own symphony.”

With the Human Brain Project, Markram is endeavouring to build a computer model of the human brain based on biological data that will help both in the diagnosis and the creation of therapies for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, traumatic injuries, schizophrenia and depression, as well as behavioural problems.

“It’s important to understand the brain — there are 560 brain diseases.”

The project is also changing the way scientists work, Markram said. Gone are the days of the lone scientist. “We are creating an Internet platform to facilitate people working together as teams. The team approach is a cultural revolution in how we approach the brain.”

Markram said it’s important to realise that the brain is fast. “But there is an opportunity for you to get into the driving seat. There is no limit to getting your brain to do what you want it to do for you. You can be the captain of the brain.”

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