Researchers from the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine just made a huge, game-changing discovery about the human brain.
Their discovery didn’t come from decoding genes, detecting chemicals in test tubes, or testing drugs. They simply found a part of the human brain that we never knew existed. Their discovery actually reminded me of the physician/surgeon Vesalius who made the first modern “map” of the human body during the European Renaissance.
Of course, most doctors thought we already had a complete “map” of the human body. And if it had been left to certain experts at National Institutes of Health (NIH), this discovery might never have happened.
Let me explain…
Thirty years ago, while working as a Senior Investigator at NIH, I was called to headquarters for an internal scientific review conference. They have many meetings, conferences, colloquia, seminars, pep rallies, briefings, announcements, workshops on political correctness, and various other meaningless group activities. They have so many meetings, the entire top tier of the largest building on the vast NIH campus contains nothing but conference rooms. The endless meetings and meeting rooms actually encourage the government’s dysfunctional approach to all modern medical problems: “When in doubt, call another meeting.”
These endless meetings, of course, take everyone away from doing their work. But since it’s the government, who can tell anyway?
Well, 30 years ago on that day in an adjacent conference room, there was another meeting to set new funding priorities for NIH. Outside the conference room, I couldn’t help but hear a couple of loud, arrogant, “new generation,” molecular scientists bragging about how they were cutting out all funding for the study of basic human anatomy.
Instead, they pushed the government to funnel all research funds into molecular and cell studies in test tubes. They claimed we already knew “everything” about human anatomy. There was nothing further to learn about the human body. They argued all new knowledge would come from materialist, reductionist studies of microscopic pieces and parts.
I vividly recall being viscerally offended and alarmed by this arrogant attitude. And vowed to never let myself go down that road.
This arrogant boast also reminded me of something I had learned just 10 years earlier in my basic human anatomy course at Penn. We had a Professor Emeritus named Oscar Batson. He was a large, tall man who could sometimes be seen wandering the halls of the Anatomy Department. And he was a legend.
Long after the anatomy of the human vascular system had been “completely” mapped, doctors and scientists noted something unusual about the circulatory system of the brain. There seemed to be some mysterious way blood could drain from the brain back to the heart. It bypassed all known, “mapped” blood vessels.
Dr. Batson pursued the clues and discovered, as late as the mid-20th century, a new key fact about human anatomy. He found a hidden network of veins that drains blood from the brain down through the spinal column. This key anatomical feature became known as “Batson’s plexus.”
I’m almost sure those molecular scientists at NIH knew nothing about “Batson’s plexus.” Indeed, their attitudes seemed destined only to “perplex us.”
These arrogant attitudes became so pervasive, they effectively closed down human anatomy departments across the country. Medical students today now learn about the human body only from books and computer simulations. (They also closed down physiology departments. In fact, my own Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University–as well as their Complementary/Alternative Medicine Program–somehow merged into Biochemistry and Cellular Biology!)
Thankfully, even as the NIH went ahead and cut out funding for basic human anatomy and physiology, the field of neuroscience emerged.
Neuroscientists acknowledged they still had much to learn about how the mind-body-brain all connect–anatomically and physiologically. They began drawing another “map.” This time, they wanted to show how consciousness, mental states, emotions, and feelings directly link to the peripheral nervous system and the endocrine hormonal system. They also found evidence that the mind links directly to the immune system, which we now realize plays a role in the development of most, if not all, diseases.
Thus, the new field of “psycho-neuro-immunology” became a key area on the forefront of medicine. It’s especially important for understanding how “mind-body” and other complementary/alternative therapies actually work.
But there was still a “missing link.”
Was there a direct connection between the brain and the immune system itself?
Prior human anatomical maps showed the brain sat isolated behind the “blood-brain barrier,” closed off from the immune system and lymphatic circulation (which carries immune cells).
Then–last month–came the stunning new discovery from the scientists at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine. Thankfully, the UVA scientists never bought into the NIH’s arrogant assumptions about the human body.
These forward-thinking UVA scientists discovered a whole network of blood vessels never before mapped…and previously thought not to exist. These blood vessels directly connect the brain to the immune system.
The fact that such vessels escaped detection for so long in our era of high-tech science and imaging technology is amazing. Unless, of course, you decided there was no point in looking, as did the Mandarins of Medicine at the NIH 30 years ago.
Now practical-minded clinical scientists are just seeing the lights go on when it comes to every neurological disease–from autism to multiple sclerosis–where they have long observed the involvement of the immune system.
Neuroscientists and practitioners of mind-body therapies and complementary/alternative medicine have always understood the connection of the brain-mind to the immune system. But now, we have brand new evidence proving how they connect anatomically.
They made this astounding discovering by simply extending the 16th-century science of human anatomy to the 21st century.
Vesalius would be proud but thinking, “hey, what took you so long?”
P.S. To learn more about the mind-body connection, check out my book with Mike Jawer called Your Emotional Type: Finding Therapies That Work for You. In the book, you’ll learn all about these fascinating mind-body connections, and what they mean for your health.