Reactivate (old) memories with a neural prosthesis
By Mathilde Balsan
— Apr 20, 2018
Volunteers have had significant science experience at the Wake Forest Baptist University Medical Center in the state of North Carolina in the United States. 17 guinea pigs were able to reactivate a memory thanks to implanted electrodes that reproduce the activity of the neurons linked to this particular memory. The discovery of this cerebral prosthesis is mainly intended for patients with neurodegenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The panel of volunteers recruited for this first scientific experience were epileptic, microelectrodes had already been grafted into their brains for medical reasons. These electrodes mainly affect the hippocampal neurons located at the back of the brain, a structure that plays a central role in memory and spatial navigation.
The true brilliant feat of researchers is in the programming of electrodes to deliver electrical stimuli only to a few selected neurons. The technology of signal transmission is inspired by the structure of digital networks according to Science et Vie, it is called MIMO.
A memorization phase took place before the stimulation phase in order to evaluate the natural performance of people’s memory. The scientists recorded and analyzed the neuronal activity of the hippocampus with image and color storage tests. These tests make it possible to find the “signature” that accompanies the crystallization of a precise memory, the “signature” marking our identity since everyone has one.
The stimulation phase can started: the researchers showed volunteers a series of images already seen before, they then reproduced the experiment by leaving few minutes between the image view and the request for recognition. The results in the publication are very positive: they noted an improvement in memory of 37%. Encouraged by this discovery, scientists want to extend this new field of research to other volunteers.
The human-machine interface is rich in fantasies: the study, extremely laudable for the victims of Alzheimer’s, illustrates the will to fight a deficiency. But some magazines already speak of an innovation that can improve the memory capacity of human beings and will be used in the fields of education or training. Be careful, however, not to confuse medicine, the purpose of which is to eliminate the worst by scientific proof, and transhumanism which counts on the empowerment (quantified self) and the selection of the best by being based only on promises.