It sounds a bit like a futuristic series, maybe even has a touch of Westworld, and yet researchers have managed to help people with amnesia with the help of a prosthetic brain. Using electrons implanted in the brain and targeted delivery of stimulation stimuli could significantly improve the memory capacity of people with Alzheimer’s disease or epilepsy. The results of the study were published in July in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Despite the successes achieved, there are still unanswered questions.
Researchers copy hippocampus
For more than ten years, Theodore Berger, Dong Song, and a team of researchers have been researching the memory prosthesis, which is supposed to copy the human hippocampus in some way. First, the researchers had to understand the memory processes in the human brain. To this end, research has not only been done on short-term memory but also on long-term memory. The first positive results from the brain prosthesis speak for themselves and show that the researchers have an idea of how we store memories. Complex processes take place in the human brain, driven by small electrical impulses. Certain activity patterns then form our memories. Song and his team needed to understand and use this coding for their development.
Improved memory performance in Alzheimer’s patients, even after brain prosthesis removal
Significant improvements in memory performance were achieved in the tests on the volunteers, who had appropriate electrodes implanted in the relevant brain regions. The researchers note that the greater the limitation, the more noticeable the improvements. After a few weeks, the electrodes were removed again. However, the researchers are quite optimistic that this process can also achieve a certain lasting training effect on the brains of the subjects. Memory performance after electrode removal should therefore remain better than before the intervention. The researchers assume that the targeted stimulation and simulation of memory performance enhanced the networking of neurons in the human brain. Ultimately, this should also help patients with brain injuries, for example after an accident, to compensate for the memory gaps or at least be able to bridge broken neuron connections more quickly.
Research needs to be further intensified
Despite the initial good results, the researchers say the electrodes still need improvement. In essence, it is initially “easier” to use the brain prosthesis in case of brain injury in order to be able to help people again faster and more successfully. In the case of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, it is more difficult, as usually multiple areas of the brain are affected. According to Song, the electrons used in the study were still quite coarse, so only between 40 and 100 neurons could be recorded. So far, only minor effects could be achieved. According to the researcher, significantly more artificial neurons are needed. Hundreds or even thousands are needed to successfully treat more complex injuries or disease processes. The research into memory prostheses is promising and exciting. If these too could offer help against Alzheimer’s in the near future, that would be a huge step. We will continue to monitor developments.