A BOY who had a sixth of his brain removed to treat a tumour stunned doctors when scans revealed the brain tissue “miraculously” grew back.
Tanner Collins was diagnosed with a golf ball-sized benign tumour that was growing toward the back of his head – causing excruciating migraines and seizures.
After medication failed to help deal with the pain, Tanner was faced with only one option: surgery.
But that meant having to have a massive portion of his brain removed.
Tanner’s parents were warned that the part of the brain that would be affected was the bit that let him see and process visual information, and that after the op, even if he could still see, he might suffer cognitive delays.
But amazingly, five years on, Tanner’s brain has repaired itself to such a massive degree that he’s gone on to become a chess-playing whizz.
All brains can make new and different connections
Medium reports that despite losing 15 per cent of the organ, the left side of Tanner’s brain has taken over the tasks that the missing right-hand side originally did.
It might sound freaky, but it’s actually part of a process called neuroplasticity.
All brains can actually make new and different connections between neurons.
Ever wondered why learning something new can feel a bit like a brain ache… but it’s so much easier to do the second time around?
That’s because your brain has made a new neuron pathway which is there for the next time you try that activity.
If your brain didn’t have any plasticity and wasn’t able to make new connections, you’d never learn or remember anything.
And that’s exactly what happens when you have dementia – the brain stops connecting and you start forgetting.
When you’re concussed during a traumatic injury, the brain tries to repair damaged neuron connections.
But while we know the brain has this incredible self-healing power, Tanner’s brain is extraordinary.
But Tanner’s case is ‘extraordinary’
Now scientists want to study his remarkable recovery to shed light on exactly how a brain can make for the loss of an entire lobe – particularly one that’s involved in such a delicate process such as sight.
By working with Tanner, psychologist Dr Marlene Behrmann from Carnegie Mellon University, hopes to work out how to retrain her patients’ brain to see and understand visual cues.
In the week after his tumour removal, Tanner recovered in hospital while doctors tried to “map” which parts of his brain were talking to each other and which parts had gone quiet.
He could still see and recognise his parents but he struggled to recall names.
Within a few days, however, he got that ability back.
Hope case might pave the way for brain injury treatments
While that quick recovery was amazing, scientists had already found that age plays a massive role in how speedily the brain repairs.
Up until 25, your brain is still developing – particularly the visual bits.
Tanner’s brain was still growing and fine-tuning its visual ability and it’s that which seems to have played a part in the left side of the brain taking over the other side’s duties.
Three years later, Dr Behrmann started to test Tanner on his memory and learning abilities and then compared his results with other kids his age who didn’t have any brain injuries.
Besides the empty area in the back of his head, Tanner seemed no different from other kids his age.
Now the question docs are working out is at what age does this amazing recovery slow down?
And that should allow surgeons to come up a more definite cut off for when surgical intervention is worth it or whether it’s too risky.
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