Brain implants being developed that could help restore memory - FOX 32 News Chicago

Brain implants being developed that could help restore memory

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(Aban Nesta/Flickr) (Aban Nesta/Flickr)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The problem of having memory loss may not be a worry for much longer.

A new implant for the brain being developed by US military researchers could restore mental abilities and capacity. This development raises ethical concerns though, but at the same time could bring new life to millions affected by memory loss around the world.

The project is being run by the Defense Advanced Research Agency, also known as DARPA. The project should take around four years to complete and is part of another program that costs 100-million, which was started by President Barack Obama in order to gain more knowledge on the brain. Those who suffer most from memory loss are soldiers hurt in war and victims of Alzheimer’s disease.

"If you have been injured in the line of duty and you can't remember your family, we want to be able to restore those kinds of functions," DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said.

Sanchez claims it’s possible to create prosthetic devices that work together with a part of the brain called the ‘hippocampus.’ This part of the brain is vital because it is used to help bring together information, which includes both short and long term memories.

However, messing with or changing the brain could raise ethical questions.

“When you fool around with the brain you are fooling around with personal identity. The cost of altering the mind is you risk losing a sense of self, and that is a new kind of risk we never faced,” said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

Hypothetically, the prosthetic devices that would be inserted into the brain could change a person’s personality. For example, Caplan claims it may make soldiers cold-hearted and more violent.

In regards to Alzheimer’s disease and those who have it, little progress has already been made in boosting some people’s memory. This has happened through deep brain stimulation by sending electronic impulses through a pacemaker to certain parts of the brain.

Robert Hampson, an associate professor at Wake Forest University, has tested some memory techniques on animals. His research on rodents and monkeys showed that neurons in the hippocampus, which processes memory, fired differently when the animals saw red or blue, or a picture of a face versus food.

Hampson extended the short-term, working memory of his animal subjects by using prosthetics that stimulated the hippocampus. However, Hampson said in order to restore a human’s exact memory, scientists would need to know the exact pattern for that memory.

“The idea is to restore a function back to normal or near normal of the memory processing areas of the brain, so that the person can access their formed memories, and so that they can form new memories as needed,” Hampson said.


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