Are you always forgetting things or can’t make up your mind? Recent research has shown promise for a brain implant that could be used to help you remember or decide.
A recent study at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, North Carolina, implanted electrodes into the prefrontal cortex of five primates to record neural activity while the monkeys were performing a memory task. The monkeys were shown a picture and after a short delay, had to identify the matching picture from seven pictures randomly positioned on a screen. When the primates moved the cursor and selected the correct picture, they were provided with a juice reward.Recordings from the electrodes implanted in the brain found that neurons in different layers of the prefrontal cortex were activated when firstly, the monkey recognised the correct picture and secondly, when the monkey chose the kind of movement needed to select the correct picture. The researchers created an algorithm that read the pattern of neural activity involved when the correct picture was first identified. A brain implant (or neuroprosthesis) inserted in the monkeys brain then processed this pattern and stimulated the neuron for the corresponding movement, leading the monkey’s hand to the correct picture. In effect, the neuroprosthesis helped the monkey make up its mind.
Trials with the neuroprosthesis showed that the algorithm improved memory recall even if the subject’s cognition was disrupted. The monkeys were given cocaine to interrupt their normal neural activity. The neuroprosthesis successfully recognised the task pattern and stimulated the correct movement response showing that it could recover lost cognitive function in the primate brain.
“Based on the findings of this study, we hope in the future to develop an implantable neuroprosthesis that could help people recover from cognitive deficiencies due to brain injuries,” said Robert E. Hampson, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.
Attention, decision making and movement selection are some of the higher cognitive activities processed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This research could bypass damage caused by stroke, dementia or other brain injuries with a neuroprosthesis pre-programmed with decision-making algorithms from a healthy brain.
Forgetting your keys and not being able to decide what’s for dinner, will be a thing of the past.
By Pahia Cooper