Brain Bath: A Clever Design Solution
by Brian Thomas, M.S. *
What makes sleep so mentally refreshing? University of Rochester neuroscientist Jeff Iliff addressed the crowd gathered at a September 2014 TEDMED event and explained his amazing new discoveries.1 The words he used perfectly match what one would expect while describing the works of an ingenious designer.2
Other organs rely on the lymphatic system to remove metabolic waste that builds up in the spaces outside cells, but no lymph vessels exist behind the skull. Since the brain uses a fourth of all the body’s energy, there must be some other mechanism at work to clear away brain waste. Iliff and his colleagues discovered this mechanism and published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine in 2012.3 In his TED talk, Iliff described his team’s findings using the appropriate language of design.
Iliff said, “We've found that sleep may actually be a kind of elegant design solution to some of the brain's most basic needs, a unique way that the brain meets the high demands and the narrow margins that set it apart from all the other organs of the body.”1
During sleep, special cells found alongside blood vessels pump cerebrospinal fluid from the edges of the brain to its center. The brain’s neurons actually shrink to permit the fluid to rush through the tiny spaces between cells where it picks up and carries off metabolic waste products.
Again from Iliff, “If you think about it, using the outsides of these blood vessels like this is a really clever design solution, because the brain is enclosed in a rigid skull and it's packed full of cells, so there is no extra space inside it for a whole second set of vessels like the lymphatic system.”1
He used words like “elegant,” “beautiful,” “solution,” and “clever design” to describe how the brain—an “unimaginably complex mechanism”—bathes itself.1
How was this remarkable system created? Iliff noted that the lymph system evolved, and then he credited the brain itself for somehow solving “the problem of waste clearance.”1
The brain is amazing, but it cannot build its own parts any more than a computer can install new hardware all by itself. God could, so He is by far the most reasonable source of the information needed to manufacture and distribute along brain blood vessels these amazing and necessary tiny cerebrospinal fluid pumps.
- Iliff, J. One more reason to get a good night’s sleep. TED Talks. Filmed September 2014, accessed October 14, 2014.
- “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
- Iliff, J.J. et al. 2012. A Paravascular Pathway Facilitates CSF Flow Through the Brain Parenchyma and the Clearance of Interstitial Solutes, Including Amyloid β. Science Translational Medicine. 4 (147): 147ra111.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on October 17, 2014.