Memory implant gives brains a boost

Published: 14 November 2017

The Project Boosting your brain
The Project Boosting your brain
You're watching The Project Boosting your brain New research shows that it's possible to substantially improve your memory. And all it takes is a few wires in your brain.

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Stimulation device mimics our thinking patterns

It’s shocking! Electrical pulses can help strengthen our memory
Image royalty-free via Pixabay

Do your have problems with your memory? Or do you have problems with your memory?

Either way, we have good news for you. Scientists from the University of Southern California have developed a brain implant that can give your memory a boost of up to 30 percent.

The ‘memory prosthesis’ is composed of electrodes, and is designed to give your hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning) small electric shocks.

That might sound scary – but these pulses actually mimic the workings of a normal, healthy brain, providing the sort of neural activity that memory ordinarily would. And this is all about boosting your memory, remember? (If you don’t, this is even more important.)

“We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function,” said Dong Song from the University of Southern California. “This has never been done before.”

The implant trialled the device on 20 volunteer patients who were having electrodes put into the brains to treat epilepsy.

Each volunteer performed a pair of tests to measure their short-term (5-10 second) and working (10-40 minute) memory.

At the same time, researchers measured the patterns of brain activity in the volunteers, and worked out which patterns were associated with their best memory performances. This data was then fed into the device, which stimulated similar brain activity in the patients.

The researchers found that the stimulation improved short-term performance by around 15 percent of the time in the short-term memory test, and around 25 percent of the time in the working memory test, compared to when patients received no electric stimulation.

Conversely, stimulating patients’ brains with a random pattern of electricity worsened performance.

Dr Song presented the findings in Washington DC over the past weekend at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, and said that he hopes the device could help patients with dementia.

The group are also looking at the possibility of implanting memories. Earlier research by the group on rats found that they could train a rat to do a task, measure the brain activity, and replicate that activity in a rat which had not been trained.

The second rat was then able to learn the task much faster – as if it already had some memory of the task.

But as well as fast-tracking learning, the device could be used to plant false memories.

“If we show a picture of a dog, is there a pattern associated with the dog that we can use to create a false memory of the dog?” says Dr Song. “We’ve started working on that.”

Perhaps forget what we said about this technology not being scary. If you can…