A memory prosthesis could restore memory in people with damaged brains

Brain injury patients will be the first [candidates]These injuries tend to affect specific areas of the brain. It would be easier to target hippocampal injuries than degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, which tend to damage many areas of the brain, says Song.

“It seems to me that we might one day be able to replace the hippocampus with something else,” Jacobs says. But he points out that it would be difficult to completely clone a healthy hippocampus — the structure containing tens of millions of neurons. “It’s a bit hard to imagine how a handful of electrodes could replace millions of neurons in the hippocampus,” he says.

Doctor surgically implants a memory prosthesis

Wake up Forest Medical Center

The electrodes used in the study are about a millimeter wide, and all of the volunteers implanted them deep in the brain enough to reach the hippocampus — about 10 centimeters deep. Song says it’s fairly rudimentary by modern research standards and can only record about 40 to 100 neurons. He says that any memory prosthesis designed to treat memory disorders would require electrodes in the brain with hundreds of contact points, allowing them to record from and stimulate hundreds or thousands of neurons.

Hampson, Song and their colleagues have yet to figure out how the memory suit works in practice. It might not make sense to turn on the machine all the time, for example – there are a lot of life experiences, like taking out the trash, that people with memory disorders don’t need to remember. “Why do we get lost? [brain] space?” Jacobs says.

Song thinks the prosthesis could be used in conjunction with a type of device that can tell if a device needs to be turned on or not — possibly by detecting when the brain needs to be in a ready state to learn.

Song does not yet know if a memory prosthesis should be operated overnight. It is thought that when we sleep, the hippocampus replays some of the memories encoded during the day, in order to consolidate them in other areas of the brain. Song and colleagues don’t know whether an artificial memory device that repeats this replay will improve memory, or whether it’s a good idea to stimulate the hippocampus at all while a person sleeps.

Either way, the prosthesis is still far from clinical use, says Shapiro. “I think in principle it could work,” he says. “[But] We have a long way to go before we understand enough about memory to be able to use this kind of approach to replace hippocampal function. “

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