According to a recent story in Technology Review, Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has developed an implant that may one day not only help people with brain damage form new memories, but also recover old ones. One of the most pernicious effects of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, strokes, and traumatic head injuries is the inability to process memories.
The implants would work by mimicking the function of healthy neurons, processing information while bypassing the damaged parts of the brain. The implants would process the signals that allow people to retain short-term memories and, ultimately, access long-term memories, abilities that are often lost when the brain is compromised.
Berger’s device has yet to undergo human trials. However, rodent and primate experiments, using the implants externally, have shown great promise.
If Berger’s memory implants prove to be successful, they will join a series of such devices developed by the medical device industry that have restored functions to people who have lost them. Cochlear implants have already restored hearing to hundreds of thousands of people. Other researchers are developing devices that can restore sight to the blind and some movement to limbs for the paralyzed.
The idea of memory implants is by orders of magnitude more difficult than any other such devices. That is because neuroscience is just beginning to understand how the human brain processes memory. Even so, with an aging population, such devices could prove to be a boon, allowing people to live full, more productive lives where they might otherwise be invalids.
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