Researchers at USC and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre are currently testing a brain prosthesis to help individuals experiencing memory loss.The prosthesis works through implanted electrodes in the brain which bypass damaged areas. This could have astounding medical applications for those with brain injuries or diseases affecting the hippocampus.
Memories are normally encoded through sequential electrical signals in the hippocampus which re-encode sensory inputs into a new format for long-term storage. Damage to pathways involved in this conversion can prevent new memories being stored long-term. This explains why diseases such as Alzheimer’s can prevent new memories being committed to long term memory as the neural pathways between various regions of the hippocampus are often affected. A new algorithm developed at USC Viterbi School of Engineering by Dong Song, based on the work of Tim Berger, has led to the ability to mimic this memory formation.
The prosthesis was developed through experiments on nine patients with implanted hippocampal electrodes to treat chronic seizures. Researchers Sam Deadwyler and Robert Hampson recorded the signals transmitted from the first region of the hippocampus to the second in order for the model to be constructed by Song and Berger. After hundreds of animal trials, the algorithm proved to be accurate in how memories are translated from short-term to long-term in 90% of cases and has now progressed to human trials.
The research was presented at the end of August at the 37th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Milan.