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Brain Implants That Can Boost Memory

Brain Implants That Can Boost Memory

USA-  What extents would you go to keep your brain and memory from failing? Would you consider having a doctor drill into your skull and implant a microchip in your brain? It is not a vain question, in the last few years, neuroscientists have achieved major advances in breaking the code of memory and finding out ways the human brain stores information and hoping to learn ways to simulate this process. They have now gotten to a stage in which they are starting to place all of these theories into practice. Two months ago a couple of research teams proved successful when using electrical signals which come from an implanted device in the brain using wires, this was tested in a small group of test patients.  Dr. Robert Hampson, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine and the leader of one of the teams, says its a major benchmark in showing the ability to be able to restore memory in humans. This research is being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they believe these implants can be a life-altering technology for about 270,000 American Soldiers who suffered a brain injury while they were deployed. The possibilities go farther than that, they can also help the millions of Americans who are battling Alzheimer's disease, as well as other cognitive disorders. This can even help the mental decline that comes with old age. Dr. Michael Kahana, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the leader of the other team that most recently reported this memory success, says there is more to deciphering this tale. They have been successful in finding this human data, while there is lots of publicity they want to make sure people know this data is real.

This has been in the works since 1961 when Dr. William House invented the Cochlear Implant as an aid for people who were deaf. Many of his colleagues thought this was a crazy idea when they first heard of this, but it did work and now more than 300,000 people around the world are now using these implants. Things picked up again in 2002 when the Food and Drug Administration gave the go-ahead to a treatment for Parkinson's disease, where the brain was stimulated as a treatment for it. Parkinson's is a disease that affects about 10 million people all over the world. And this treatment worked in the same way a pacemaker would work, incurring very small electrical currents into the brain which proven to work in keeping tremor and rigidity under control, which are the major symptoms of Parkinson's. Aside from Parkinson's, brain stimulation is being used to treat OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), epilepsy and depression. Dr. Heather Berlin, a cognitive scientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai who has worked in detail with patients who deal with this cognitive disorders that they have seen about 40-70 percent improvement which is a big deal. Even though this has been very successful, the latest in memory implants are exceptional. Research is showing the possibilities of electrical misfires in our brains, also to enhance the brains functions and the ability to cipher newer memories and later be able to access and retrieve them. To avoid ethic raised by the idea of meddling with other people's brain the Wake Forest and Penn State teams are working with people who have epilepsy who were on their way to getting brain implants.

By understanding those implants, Kahana's team were able to read the signals of 25 test patients brains, as they performed a simple recall of a particular word. The scientist paid attention to the areas of the brain which were associated with poor memory, the tapped into this information then delivered small currents of electricity to point into certain activities in the regions of the brain. This would allow other areas of the brain to correct memory response and to dominate it. The test subjects were later tested, and their memory seemed to have improved by an average of 15 percent. You might think that 15 percent is not a big number but according to Kahana 15 percent is equal to 18 years of brain age, she also said is similar to the memory of what a 43 year old was at the age of 25. There is no way of curing  They are not trying to cure the disease in itself, but they want to maintain the nervous system to function as well it possibly can. At Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, Hampson and his teams made a courageous approach as they took control of 20 tests subjects by going directly into their hippocampus, which is a part of our brain that is deep within it, commonly looks like a seahorse and is thought to be the main control of the memory. As the test patients completed a test for short-term memory loss they recorded the electrical signals that were linked to the correct answers. Then, Hampson and his teams ran other experiments in which they carried the same signals recorded into the brain and when the women and men were given these tests their scores were up by 35 percent. Hampson says that this shows that if the brain is stimulated, focusing on an area can reinforce the codes and in turn form memories.

There is still a lot of work to be done in order for these implants to work for people to use on a daily basis and to make sure they are also safe to use. There is quite a bit of academic groups and startups that are working to get ahead in looking at what kind of data the brain will be able to handle without having the bulky equipment. The outcome is to have something similar to a pacemaker, with the brain implant being wired to a small controller surgically placed under the skin, which would be battery powered. Kahana says they would like to develop something that would be a full implant and to do trial runs with it in the next few years. Pandromics, a San Jose Startup plans to sell what they call a cortical modem to an implant would be able to read the brain and the signals that cause to get stimulated at a rate of GB of data per second, this is their hope by 2021. If these implants work as they expect them to, this could go beyond people with traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer's, says Kahana. This could include people who have age-related memory loss, which will include everyone who lives long enough. Berlin wonders if this could break people up into two different classes, there is concern that someone will be able to hack into your implant and have an influence on your behaviour and thoughts, as the technology advances, today's generation will be placed in front of this questions directly.


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