An experimental brain implant improved memory in volunteers and may point to a new way to treat memory-damaging conditions such as brain injury and dementia.
The device was tested on 25 people with epilepsy who were being evaluated for an operation and improved their word recall by 15 percent, about the amount that’s lost to Alzheimer’s disease over two-and-half years, The New York Times reported.
However, some experts noted that amount of improvement is fairly modest.
The device sends electrical pulses to the brain when it is having difficulty storing new information, but is inactive when it senses that brain function is normal.
The results of test were published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
“The exciting thing about this is that, if it can be replicated and extended, then we can use the same method to figure out what features of brain activity predict good performance,” Bradley Voytek, assistant professor of cognitive and data science, University of California, San Diego, told The Times.
“Very similar approaches might be relevant for other applications, such as treating symptoms of depression or anxiety,” said Dr. Edward Chang, professor of neurosurgery, University of California, San Francisco.
Currently, the implant requires multiple electrodes to be placed in the brain, making it a highly delicate procedure, The Times reported.
“Ideally we can find other, less invasive ways to switch the brain from these lower to higher functioning states,” Voytek said. “I don’t know what those would be, but eventually we’re going to have to work out the ethical and public policy questions raised by this technology.”