November 09, 2004
Is your kid not going to get into Harvard? – Operate!

This has obvious educational implications, especially in an age of rich and competitive parents. (See the posting below about which are the world's best universities.)

Some neurologists recently have wondered whether their field is the next frontier in elective medicine. The specialty now tries to protect ailing brains from conditions such as Parkinson's disease or migraine headaches. But doctors' efforts one day may extend to normal brains.

"This is coming, and we need to know it's coming," said Dr. Anjan Chatterjee of the University of Pennsylvania.

Got you, Doctor.

As he envisions it, cosmetic neurology one day could mean not only sharpening intelligence, but also elevating other dictates of the brain – reflexes, attention, mood and memory. Studying for the SAT? Take this drug to retain more of those pesky facts. About to report for duty at the fire station? These pills will improve your reflexes. Here's the 800 number. Ask your doctor.

These are not only theoretical musings. Last month in the journal Neurology, Chatterjee noted that some current drugs already may have many of these effects. In one study, for example, emergency-room patients given a memory-altering drug appeared to be spared some symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Another small study of pilots in flight simulators suggested that those taking medications for Alzheimer's disease performed better, particularly under emergency conditions.

Chatterjee reserves opinion but says the idea speaks to the basic purpose of medical practice.

"I'm not arguing that this is a bad thing, and I'm not arguing it's a good thing." Before doctors are caught by surprise, he said, they need to be prepared. "What I'm hoping to do with this is get people talking."

And if for some reason they can't talk, there is presumably going to be some kind of operation to fix that.

I had already started on this posting before I even got to the bit about getting people talking. So I guess here is a doctor who knows how the world works, as well as just the brains in it.

My thanks. Arts, letters and a lot else.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:41 PM
Category: Science