The mystifying brain

The human brain has mystified people throughout history. Though it weighs only about 1.5 kg (three pounds) and is small enough to hold in our hands, it is our body's most vital organ. Its complex network of 100 billion or more nerve cells orchestrates every aspect of our thoughts, perception, and behaviour. In many ways, our brain helps define who we are.

Disorders of the brain account for more disability worldwide than any other group of illnesses, causing immense suffering and a great burden to individuals and societies (World Health Organisation). Finding ways to prevent or cure brain diseases is a primary goal of neuroscience research. Reaching this goal requires an ever-improving understanding of the brain's normal functioning, as well as what can go wrong.

Brain disorders are especially relevant to South Africa, as our high levels of violence and road accidents result in a substantial amount of brain injuries. Also, being a developing country means that mental health literacy levels are low in the general public and that there is still a high degree of stigma attached to mental illness, which prevents people from seeking the necessary help.

A promising new initiative for communicating scientific knowledge to a broad audience and stimulating an interest in the neurosciences is the Cross-University Brain Behaviour Initiative (CUBBI). CUBBI is a cross-faculty, multidisciplinary collaboration aimed at promoting research in the cognitive and affective neurosciences. CUBBI will bring together expertise from various fields such as genetics, basic neuroscience, phenotypes, cognitive psychology and neuro-imaging (PET, MRI, fMRI) in order to improve understanding and treatment. These methods will be applied to areas that are relevant to the developing world and South Africa, and the initial focus will be on trauma and resilience.

For more information, contact the Mental Health Information Centre, Tel: 021 938 9229 or email

(Mental Health Information Centre, updated September 2011)

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