What is Clinical Neuroscience?

Introduction

Clinical neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that focuses on the scientific study of fundamental mechanisms that underlie diseases and disorders of the brain and central nervous system.

It seeks to develop new ways of conceptualising and diagnosing such disorders and ultimately of developing novel treatments.

A clinical neuroscientist is a scientist who has specialised knowledge in the field. Not all clinicians are clinical neuroscientists. Clinicians and scientists – including psychiatrists, neurologists, clinical psychologists, neuroscientists, and other specialists – use basic research findings from neuroscience in general and clinical neuroscience in particular to develop diagnostic methods and ways to prevent and treat neurobiological disorders. Such disorders include addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, brain tumours, depression, Down syndrome, dyslexia, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neurological AIDS, neurological trauma, pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, stroke and Tourette syndrome.

While neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry are the main medical specialties that use neuroscientific information, other specialties such as cognitive neuroscience, neuroradiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, anaesthesiology and rehabilitation medicine can contribute to the discipline. Integration of the neuroscience perspective alongside other traditions like psychotherapy, social psychiatry or social psychology will become increasingly important.

One Mind for Research

The “One Mind for Research” forum was a convention held in Boston, Massachusetts on 23 to 25 May 2011 that produced the blueprint document A Ten-Year Plan for Neuroscience: From Molecules to Brain Health. Leading neuroscience researchers and practitioners in the United States contributed to the creation of this document, in which 17 key areas of opportunities are listed under the Clinical Neuroscience section. These include the following:

  • Rethinking curricula to break down intellectual silos.
  • Training translational neuroscientists and clinical investigators.
  • Investigating biomarkers.
  • Improving psychiatric diagnosis.
  • Developing a “Framingham Study of Brain Disorders” (i.e. longitudinal cohort for central nervous system disease).
  • Identifying developmental risk factors and producing effective interventions.
  • Discovering new treatments for pain, including neuropathic pain.
  • Treating disorders of neural signalling and pathological synchrony.
  • Treating disorders of immunity or inflammation.
  • Treating metabolic and mitochondrial disorders.
  • Developing new treatments for depression.
  • Treating addictive disorders.
  • Improving treatment of schizophrenia.
  • Preventing and treating cerebrovascular disease.
  • Achieving personalized medicine.
  • Understanding shared mechanisms of neurodegeneration.
  • Advancing anaesthesia.

In particular, it advocates for better integrated and scientifically driven curricula for practitioners, and it recommends that such curricula be shared among neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists.

Given the various ethical, legal and societal implications for healthcare practitioners arising from advances in neuroscience, the University of Pennsylvania inaugurated the Penn Conference on Clinical Neuroscience and Society in July 2011.

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