A study funded by DARPA increased the possibility of memory-enhancing brain prosthetics. The animal research done previously showed successful results after which the study was conducted on patients at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The patients there were already having brain implants as a part of their epilepsy treatment. They experienced major improvements in both short-term and long-term memory. The patients were asked to play a memory-related computer game in which they were asked to remember specific things.
When the patients were trying to remember those things, the researchers recorded various patterns of neural firing in the brain’s hippocampus area. The hippocampus area of the brain is responsible for the memory. They also paid attention to neural patterns that resulted in the correct memory being encoded. After that, they made the patients play the game again and electrically simulated each patient’s brain by using the encoding patterns studied earlier. They were hoping to use those electrical simulators to trigger more effective memory storage of the data which they have.
The method worked successfully and showed results that were better than what the team was expecting. The results on the short-term memory tests jumped by a huge 37% and the long-term memory tests enhanced by 35%. Robert Hampson, the lead author of the study said, “We showed that we could tap into a patient’s own memory content, reinforce it and feed it back to the patient. Even when a person’s memory is impaired, it is possible to identify the neural firing patterns that indicate correct memory formation and separate them from the patterns that are incorrect. We can then feed in the correct patterns to assist the patient’s brain in accurately forming new memories, not as a replacement for innate memory function, but as a boost to it.”
The research has opened the door to the memory-enhancing brain implants. These implants might give a button which can be pressed when looking at something to increase the chances of remembering it later. The researchers are looking at this as a potential medical device to help the patients with Alzheimers, stroke or traumatic brain injury patients. The implant will help them re-start the process of forming new memories using their brain’s own activity patterns. The team is also hoping that the technology might be able to assist people in keeping memories which they have encoded already. Hampson says, “In the future, we hope to be able to help people hold onto specific memories, such as where they live or what their grandkids look like when their overall memory begins to fail.”