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School Biology revision notes: Brain 3. Brain damage

The Brain 3. The causes and treatment of brain damage and brain disorders

Doc Brown's GCSE level Biology exam study revision notes

There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

Sub-index for biology notes on the brain's structure and function

(3) What are the causes, risks, consequences and treatment of brain damage?

As our knowledge of how the brain works increases, so it is possible to devise appropriate treatments for different disorders of the brain.

The brain is so delicate and complex that there are many causes of brain damage.

Sadly, its hard to repair damage to any part of the central nervous system - anything faulty in spinal cord or brain.

Lots of things can go wrong with the central nervous system e.g. physical injuries to the brain or spinal cord from severe impacts in accidents, tumours from pathogen caused mutations, diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

All of these are difficult to treat, one reason being the difficulty in repairing damage to the neurones in the CNS, the neurones cannot repair themselves and we have not yet devised techniques to repair damaged nerve tissue.

Any operation to remove a brain tumour is tricky, and it is difficult to avoid damage to surrounding areas of otherwise healthy brain tissue.

Such damage can leave the patient with problems with speech or vision.

In some cases, no treatment is impossible e.g. it is not possible to remove tumours growing certain regions of the brain.

Surgery on a patient with spinal cord damage risks further damage to the spinal cord, which can cause permanent paralysis - loss of movement capability because nerve signals from the brain can't get through to the effector cells.

Neurones in the nerve systems cannot readily repair themselves and medical science hasn't found a way yet to repair nerve tissue.

Cell differentiation is the process by which a less specialized cell becomes a more specialized cell type. Once neurones have differentiated they don't undergo mitosis - they can't divide to replace lost neurones.

Medical research scientists are investigating the use of stem cells to replace damaged tissues of cells in the nervous system - the idea being to get stem cells to differentiate and change into neurones.

The use of stem cells raises ethical issues - the use of embryonic stem cells offends many people because destroying an embryo is destroying a potential life. Others would argue curing somebody of a very disabling medical condition should override other moral considerations - a tricky one! and lots more dilemmas to come as medical science gets cleverer and cleverer!

Any treatment of a central nervous system disorder carries risks of further permanent damage.

A stroke in the brain may be caused by a blocked artery or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel causing brain damage. Some people may experience only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. The former is much more serious and can lead to permanent brain damage.

After a stroke, depending on which area of the brain is affected, you can be left with paralysis down one side of your body - mobility problems, speech, vision and memory impairment.

If treatment is initiated rapidly, its amazing how good patient recovery can be.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system characterised by involuntary shaking of the body - tremors, muscular rigidity, and slow imprecise movement. It mainly affects middle-aged and elderly people. It is caused by the brain becoming progressively damaged by loss of nerve cells over a period of many years.

Although there's currently no cure for Parkinson's disease, treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

These include:

supportive treatments such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy


in some cases, brain surgery

electrical stimulation using tiny electrodes has been used to reduce muscle tremors in nervous system disorders like Parkinson's disease.

Serious head injuries from a physical impact to the head in an accident can lead to brain damage.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative condition of the brain, which means the symptoms develop gradually over many years and eventually become more severe.

It affects multiple brain functions e.g. memory problems, confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places, difficulty planning or making decisions, problems with speech and language, problems moving around or performing self-care tasks and personality changes. Its basically the brain degenerating as you get older and difficult to treat.

Spinal cord injuries in an accident can cause paralysis of the lower body.

Surgery for a spinal cord injury carries the risk of permanent and greater injury e.g. paralysis.

Brain cancer tumours will cause disruption of brain function and the surgery to remove them carries high risks of further brain damage.

Depending on the part of the brain affected where the tumour is growing, some tumours can be treated with radiotherapy or chemotherapy, other tumours can be removed surgically, but others cannot be dealt with at all.

Since you cannot be always sure of completely removing all of the cancerous tissue of a tumor, post-surgery treatment may include radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

In removing a brain tumour you might, however inadvertently, damage other areas of the brain adjacent to where the tumour was.

As with any invasive surgery, there is always a risk of infection.

Whatever the treatment on offer, you have to make a decision based on benefits (potentially increasing life span) versus risk (brain damage and limited capability of life).

Medical scientists are always looking for safer and more effective treatments e.g.

monoclonal antibodies and gene therapy might used to treat brain cancer,

and stem cell culture techniques may help to repair damaged nerve tissue.


Boxers are particularly susceptible to brain damage because of the repeated bangs to the head. Over a period of time brain damage can accumulate as nerve cells are destroyed.


The sheer complexity of the brain and its delicate nature means any procedures like surgery that impact directly on the brain does increase the risk of brain damage. With intrusive procedures the risk of brain damage is always there and its effect on brain function e.g. inhibited limb movement, speech problems etc.

BUT, it may be the case where you are balancing risk of brain damage versus saving someone in a life threatening situation - difficult decisions!

Summary of learning objectives, key words, phrases to do with brain damage - causes and effects

Be able to explain some of the causes of brain damage.

Be able to explain some of the risks and consequences of brain damage.

Describe some possible treatments of brain damage.

Explain the severe consequences if the spinal cord is damaged.

Be able to explain what a stroke is, what causes it and potential brain damage.

Be able to describe Parkinson's disease, what it is and its symptoms.

Be able to describe Alzheimer's disease what it is and its symptoms.

Appreciate the dangers and consequences of brain cancer - formation of tumours on the brain

Explain why boxers are more susceptible to brain damage than the average person.



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