Could new Brain Implants Help Dementia Patients?

Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 8th of December 2015.

News

Short term memory loss is one of the most problematic symptoms of dementia; it can make day-to-day living extremely difficult for both those living with the condition and their loved ones. But a team of scientists at the University of Southern California hopes that such symptoms could one day be a thing of the past with the help of a new electronic brain implant.

Dr. Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineer at the University, is pioneering research into using implants to aid or replicate the function of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre. Damage to the hippocampus – whether by Alzheimer’s, dementia, brain injury, or other causes – can often lead to a lack in ability to create new memories. People with dementia may find that they are able to recall childhood memories but struggle to remember recent events or conversations.

Dr. Berger’s implant thus works by replicating the function of the hippocampus via electrical signals, giving the patient the ability to create long- and short-term memories once more.
The implications for those living with dementia would be huge but the team at USC warns that a viable and guaranteed implant is a long way off. The device has yet to be properly tested in humans and, as Dr. Berger points out, there is still a great deal of research into both dementia and the brain itself yet to be done before the treatment could become widely available. The exact structure of the hippocampus is still unknown to scientists and it could be decades before enough is known to create an implant that would be able to mimic the hippocampus in each unique patient. He also warns that the implant would not be a miracle cure; the electronic device would only go some way towards rectifying the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, not curing them.

Still, such cutting edge research into dementia is always encouraging and we look forward to hearing more from the team at USC.