A team of scientists from MIT, the University of Southern California, and North Carolina’s Wake Forest University believe that they have finally cracked the code as to how long term memories are created, stored, and retrieved. They also claim that they can replicate these processes within stroke-damaged brains or in brains that have sustained a localised injury.
Many experiment results have shown that certain functions of the brain can be replaced with signals from implanted electrodes. In fact, for over fifteen years, scientists have been utilising brain implants in order to trigger deep brain stimulation as treatment therapy for Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy – to the tune of 80,000 people.
Brain implants have become more and more mainstream, and it has now become common acceptance that humans can have electrodes implanted in their brains without fear or harm. The technology is there; it just needs some refining for size and aim.
Restoring memories not by recreating them, but by repairing the bridges to how they are retrieved
The team claims that they can not only record a memory being created, but that they can use the memory-making data to predict how a damaged area of the brain farther along in the signal chain will react. They are using electrode implants to stimulate these damaged areas in order to recreate the actions of healthy cells to trick the brain into believing that its damaged sector may be less damaged, due to the “normal” activities taking place there.
They came to these findings by studying the hippocampus – that part of the brain where short-term memories are transformed into long-term memories. They studied how electrical signals travelled from neuron to neuron in order to form a long-term memory; and based on the results were able to create electronic models that mimicked those electronic movements.
They believe that the brain functions much like a mathematical equation – where the signal inputs and outputs can be studied and modelled to the point where they are able to bypass damaged areas of the brain with a message that otherwise wouldn’t translate.
Our brains function with a lot of redundant signals to make up for possible damage to one part while still being able to transmit important messages, and this is one of the reasons why scientists think they can combat diseases like Alzheimer’s by creating devices that are able to bypass those damaged areas.
A brain implant is by no means available in the immediate future to patients suffering from Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s; but it is a step in the direction of discovering new ways to treat these diseases.