Home / WorldWide / Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Is Missing Quite a Bit of Her Brain. How Can People Survive and Thrive After Brain Injury?

Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Is Missing Quite a Bit of Her Brain. How Can People Survive and Thrive After Brain Injury?

In a recent interview Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke spoke about being able to live completely normally after two aneurysms—one in 2011 and one in 2013—that caused brain injury. She went on to have two brain surgeries. An aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in the wall of a blood vessel often accompanied by severe headache or pain. So how can people survive and thrive despite having as Clarke put it quite a bit missing from their brain? The key to understanding how brains can recover from trauma is that they are fantastically plastic— meaning our bodys supercomputer can reshape and remodel itself.

Brains can adapt and change in incredible ways. Yours is doing it right now as you form new memories. Its not that the brain has evolved to deal with brain trauma or stroke or aneurysms our ancestors normally died when that happened and may not have gone on to reproduce. In fact we evolved very thick skulls to try to prevent brain trauma from happening at all. No this neural plasticity is a result of our brains evolving to be learning machines. They allow us to adapt to changing environments to facilitate learning memory and flexibility. This functionality also means the brain can adapt after certain injuries finding new pathways to function.

A lot of organs wouldnt recover at all after serious damage. But the brain keeps developing through life. At a microscopic level youre changing the brain to make new memories every day. This extraordinary three pounds 1.5 kg of soft tissue sitting in your skull—with more power and capacity than even the most powerful supercomputer—has an incredible ability to adapt. The brain needs a constant and steady supply of oxygenated blood. When it is injured—for example by an aneurysm sudden impact against the inside of the skull stroke or surgery—oxygen supply can be interrupted. Sometimes a piece is surgically removed or a region dies off due to lack of oxygen.

For example sometimes a person with epilepsy doesnt respond to drugs. Thanks to extraordinary brain imaging techniques we can potentially work out the exact place in the brain the seizure is starting and remove part of the brain. Your brain has about 100 billion neurons and over a trillion synapses a junction between two neurons across which an electrical impulse is transmitted. They are constantly rewiring themselves in response to new experiences to store and retrieve information. With brain injury the changes can be bigger you get certain rewiring around the injury. These synapses can rearrange themselves to work around the damaged part. Axons long threadlike parts of a nerve cell that can conduct electrical impulses form nerve fibers that get sent out to new spots in response to signals they are getting from the damaged area.

But theres another form of plasticity called neurogenesis. This involves little pockets in the brain where new neurons continue to be born throughout life. And theres evidence that after brain injury these neural stem cells can be stimulated and migrate to the area of injury and make new neurons.
Neurorehabilitation might include physical rehabilitation and speech rehabilitation. And there is also research into using drugs to enhance neuroplasticity. That might also apply to slower forms of degeneration such as in Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease. As Clarke notes not everyone has a significant recovery after traumatic brain injury a lot of people experience ongoing disability. Many factors affect the way the brain responds to rehabilitation including the extent and position of the brain injury genetics lifestyle and life history.

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