Mar. 3 - Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is helping neuroscientists in California explore the relationship between rhythm and brain function. Hart is part of a virtual reality experiment to see if rhythm could be used as a form of therapy for people in cognitive decline. Ben Gruber has more.
Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is using an electric drum set to navigate his way through a virtual world. With every beat, the sensors attached to his body collect data and pass it on to a control room. Hart's eye movements, heart rate, skin temperature and brain activity are all recorded, and used to create this - a state of the art real-time display of his own brain in action. This first ever virtual brain combines neuroscience, virtual reality and gaming, the basis of an ambitious experiment led by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, at the the University of California San Francisco. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ADAM GAZZALEY, NEUROSCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO, SAYING: "So we couple these three different worlds together and use them to inform each other and create really the most powerful real time neural activity visualizer that anyone has ever seen." And with that visualizer, Gazzaley and Mickey Hart believe they can develop rhythm-based treatments for neurological disorders. Hart says he's seen the healing power of rhythm first hand…and not just as a member of one of America's best-loved bands. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICKEY HART, GRATEFUL DEAD DRUMMER, SAYING: "My grandmother couldn't speak for years, she had Alzheimer's. I played a drum for her once, a rhythmic little tattoo and she spoke my name. Many years ago in the 70's and I realized that there was power in rhythm. This is what this is all about. What is this power and how do we use it and how to we repeat and how can we make a better world using the tools that we have been given. This super organism, there is nothing better than this, this master clock, I want to know how it works." And that is exactly what Adam Gazzaley and his team intend to do. He says that rhythm can work like a drug. As Mickey plays, his brain activity is analysed with the goal of using it to adjust his virtual world in real time. In the future, Gazzaley says fine-tuning the patterns produced by rhythm could potentially re-shape and re-wire damaged neural circuitry in the brain. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ADAM GAZZALEY, NEUROSCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO, SAYING: "A key part of how our brain works is timing, exquisite millisecond timing. We know that when the timing is off the information processing that our brain does is not at the same level and it impacts the way you interact with the world around you. So the idea is if we can teach the brain how to become a better timing machine, better rhythmically, that you, your brain can perform at a more optimal level and it will translate into how you interact with the world around you and lead to a better quality of life." (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICKEY HART, GRATEFUL DEAD DRUMMER, SAYING: "I believe there are medicinal properties innate in sound, being able to control them. See, in the Grateful Dead we were playing with sound and creating an experience, an auditory driving experience. Were we able to see our brains before during and after an auditory driving experience - no. Now we can. This is what this is all about." And Gazzaley says the potential of his research is enormous..and while the work continues, Mickey Hart says he'll keep on keeping the beat, all in the name of Science.