May 13, 2013
Fixing Memory Loss With Brain Implants
From sea to shining sea, university researchers have been working together for more than a decade to create, test, and study a brain implant that could help improve memory. CNN published an article that discussed the work between University of Southern California, North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, and others.
As CNN wrote, “The scientists — who bring varied skills to the table, including mathematical modeling and psychiatry — believe they have cracked how long-term memories are made, stored and retrieved and how to replicate this process in brains that are damaged, particularly by stroke or localized injury.” To do this, the researchers focused on the hippocampus, which sits deep in the brain and is where short-term memories become long-term ones. By looking at how electrical signals travel through the neurons to form long-term memories, Ted Berger, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, was able to use mathematical modeling to electronically mimic the movements.
Man, science is cool, but I digress.
Okay, back to the brain implants. The team used rat and monkey experiments to show that signals via electrodes can replace certain natural brain functions. Now, the researchers have to try the implants out on humans, which might seem tricky. Really, though, much of the work and research in implanting electronics in the brain have already been done to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, so the danger of brain implants for memory are less because of all the data and experience already available in the medical and scientific worlds.
So, what could these memory brain implants help with? Well, for starters, they could help stroke patients who experience memory loss as well as people who have localized brain injury. The researchers hope to find a way to also help with Alzheimer’s Disease, although it affects many parts of the brain, which would require more research. However, the studies do not seem to support the memory brain implant’s ability to help patients suffering from advanced dementia because the implant works best with mild memory loss.
In combination with medications, a brain implant just might contribute more benefits to patients with memory loss. This could help people all over the world, from grandparents to soldiers, 50-somethings to children. This seems like a great study to continue pursuing, which, at this point, will require some human volunteers. The researchers in the study do not expect a shortage of volunteers. In fact, I am sure many are thinking about joining the study as they read the CNN article or even this blog.
Few long-term diseases are worse than those that cause memory loss. We hold on to our memories as a part of ourselves, so when we have a stroke or experience mild memory loss, we feel like we are losing more than just a health battle; we lose a part of ourselves. If brain implants could possibly help future generations from feeling the loneliness and emptiness of memory loss, then let’s research it more.
Of course, preventative measures certainly appeal to me more, but science finds answers, finds cures. Only through studying and research can we find either.
Image Credit: Photos.com