DARPA Creates Brain Implants that Boost Human Memory

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 - 10:52AM
Neuroscience
Tuesday, 15 September 2015 - 10:52AM
DARPA Creates Brain Implants that Boost Human Memory
In what sounds like a mixture of The Matrix and Limitless, DARPA has created a device that can be implanted directly into the brain, recording the activity associated with memory and "shocking" the brain to improve specific functions like short-term recall.

Previous studies have shown that applying electrical stimulus directly to areas of the brain concerned with memory can improve the patient's recall of information like lists or directions. In this study, DARPA tested implants from their Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program in a few dozen human volunteers, and found that it could record the neural signals or "codes" involved with memory and could also send electrical signals to specific groups of neurons, which could improve certain types of recall. 

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"Everyone has had the experience of struggling to remember long lists of items or complicated directions to get somewhere," program manager Justin Sanchez said in a statement. "Today we are discovering how implantable neurotechnologies can facilitate the brain's performance of these functions."
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The implant consists of an array of electrodes that are placed directly on the part of the brain that is involved in the formation of declarative memory, a type of long-term memory that consists of episodic memory, or personal experiences, and semantic memory, or factual information, as well as navigation and spatial awareness. Using the recorded signals, the researchers were able to decipher the neural processes involved in this type of memory, and even correctly predict when a patient was about to make a recall error.

In addition to telling us more about the process of forming memories, which is relatively opaque to neuroscientists, the researchers believe that this information will indicate the optimal method for applying the electrical stimulus, such as whether it should be done during the memorization or during the recall.

In true DARPA fashion, certain details about the study are being withheld, at least until it is peer reviewed and accepted for publication. But if DARPA is able to create and improve on memory-boosting technologies, it could have many therapeutic effects beyond giving struggling novelists superpowers. The technology could potentially help people with neurological deficits as a result of traumatic brain injury or disease, and could even help sufferers of neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as PTSD. DARPA's Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program recently created implants that were shown to relieve anxiety when electrodes were placed in a certain neuronal region.

Opening quote
"As the technology of these fully implantable devices improves, and as we learn more about how to stimulate the brain ever more precisely to achieve the most therapeutic effects, I believe we are going to gain a critical capacity to help our wounded warriors and others who today suffer from intractable neurological problems," said Sanchez. "It is a very complex and challenging frontier, but one I am convinced we will learn to navigate and leverage to good effect in people who today have no effective therapeutic options."
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Via Business Insider.
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