What New Research Says About Maintaining A Healthy Brain

Michal Schwartz, PhD, and the author of the book Neuroimmunity: A New Science That Will Revolutionize How We Keep Our Brains Healthy and Young, has a compelling theory on how we can keep our minds sharp.

In your book, you argue that the immune system and the brain are not, as previously thought, completely separate, and that the immune system actually plays a role in keeping the brain healthy. Where did this idea come from?

MS: For a long time, we thought that because of the blood-brain barrier between the brain and the circulatory system, immune cells were excluded from the brain, along with the rest of the central nervous system. And that was partly because at the time, we knew that parts of the central nervous system — including the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerve — didn’t recover from injury. After getting my PhD in immunology and doing postdoctoral work in a neuroscience lab that focused on nerve regeneration, I started to think it was unlikely that such precious tissue couldn’t be assisted by the immune system when it was in need. It didn’t make any sense.

So you started trying to disprove the old theory?

MS: Yes, and the first breakthrough came in 1998. My research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science and I wanted to prove that we actually need immune cells at the site of damaged nerves [part of the central nervous system thought to be off-limits to the immune system] to reduce inflammation and help the healing process. So that year, we transplanted a particular type of immune cell to a nerve lesion and showed that these cells did in fact help with repair by lowering inflammation.

Are other scientists pursuing this line of research too?

MS: It’s an emerging field, but there are several —> Read More