A Brave New World

Check out an article in Neurology Today, October 16, 2014, titled, “On the Hunt for Neuroprosthetics to Enhance Memory”. A governmental defense agency has awarded grants of $40 million to UCLA and University of Pennsylvania to develop implantable neuroprosthetic devices, mainly for military personnel who have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Preliminary research has shown that deep brain stimulation can enhance memory in patients with mild Alzheimer’s and can treat severe depression. Also, a study at UCLA involved epilepsy patients who were receiving deep brain stimulation, and their memory was enhanced when the electrodes stimulated a certain area of the brain. Also, transcranial magnetic stimulation improved memory scores by up to 25% in healthy volunteers. The magnets were directed at a structure near the hippocampus, but it is not known how long the improvement in memory with magnetic stimulation lasts.

The new devices will be designed in collaboration with scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to build a device 10 times smaller and much more powerful than existing ones. That device will then be implanted in the brain. It will be many years before this would be ready to help injured veterans.

There are obvious ethical concerns, mainly that manipulation of brain networks could be used as a form of mind control. Last year, scientists at MIT were able to stimulate the hippocampus of a mouse and trick it into thinking it was receiving foot shocks when there were none. Careful guidelines are needed, and the authors of the article state, “This is uncharted territory.”

Dr. Jack Florin
Neurologist
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