Head of the HSENeurolinguistics Laboratory
In 2017, Russia will see some long-expected clinical applications of fundamental neurolinguistics. Until recently, neurolinguistics has mostly been an area of research. However, over recent years, the clinical need to employ modern knowledge with respect to correlation between language and the brain has emerged. And, as such, neurolinguistics can now offer such a product for practitioners.
First of all, precise and reliable standardized tests to evaluate existing speech deficiencies among patients in various clinical groups will become widespread in the near future. One such language test is the Russian Aphasiological Test (RAT) for patients with speech disorders caused by focal brain injuries. The HSE Neurolinguistics Laboratory plans to present this test in 2017.
As it is common globally, neurolinguists in Russia and their tests for intraoperative speech mapping will become a common part of brain tumor removal surgeries (while patients are awake). Such tests can be used to create a unique anatomic map of speech centres’ distribution in the brain of a specific patient. During such surgeries, a patient is first given general anesthesia (put into a deep sleep). A craniotomy is then done, and the patient is awakened. Following the instructions of a neurolinguist, the patient carries out various speech tasks. For example, he/she may be asked to name images, complete sentences, or repeat words. While this is happening, the surgeon stimulates certain points in the brain with a small electrical current, which is, nevertheless, enough to block the activity of this particular area of the brain for several seconds. If the patient experiences difficulties in completing a particular task during the stimulation, this means that a speech-relevant zone has been detected. Such testing can help to localize speech zones in various divisions of the brain, so that the doctor is able to remove a tumor without damaging areas vital for speech. As a result, the patient can retain his/her ability to speak.
At the same time, in regards to speech rehabilitation, more attention shall be paid to evidence-based medicine. This, in turn, will facilitate the launch of a series of neurolinguistics-oriented studies.
Finally, we have learned that the neurovisual methods we currently use, mostly to verify the diagnosis of brain strokes/injuries/tumors, etc., should be considerably expanded. Firstly, they will be used to track the changes in neurons when lost skills are restored (including speech). These methods allow us to see how the brain builds new links in place of lost ones, how it uses healthy areas instead of injured zones, and where the speech function ‘migrates’. As we compare these findings with the results of speech tests, we can understand by what means the functions are restored and how successful a given reorganization might be, as well as choose the best type of speech therapy. It is our belief that, in 2017, more clinical papers will be published around the globe with commentaries on the success of functional reorganization, whether acquired skills have been consolidated, and when a given plateau was achieved during the rehabilitation process (in terms of structural and functional brain activity).
The ‘Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics’ course will be useful to everyone interested in how the language works.
The ‘Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life’ course is an introduction to neurobiology.
On the eve of New Year’s, it is customary to take a look into the near future. We asked HSE experts in various fields to share their forecasts on which areas of research might be the most interesting and promising in 2017. They tell us about what discoveries and breakthroughs await us in 2017, as well as how this could even change our lives.