To date, an effective solution for memory loss hasn’t been identified. As it is, a recent study from University of Pennsylvania researchers has sparked new life into a brain stimulation treatment previously disputed as only marginally beneficial.
The study, published in Current Biology, brings the world one step closer to solving memory loss in patients with epilepsy, brain trauma, or dementia.
It’s All in the Timing of the Brain Stimulation
This research was part of the Department of Defense’s Restoring Active Memory initiative. The goal of the four-year program is to develop an implantable device capable of restoring memory function.
While this study targeted and was completed for epilepsy patients, the DOD got involved due to the memory loss problems exhibited by soldiers who suffered traumatic head injuries.
The research team examined the process of deep brain stimulation using implanted electrodes. Previous attempts with this method showed mixed results. In some cases, it improved memory. However, the same pulses also worsened the recall is some of the instances. This study cleared up the confusion by proving that the effectiveness depends on the timing.
When the electric stimulation was delivered during a memory loss moment, the patients’ memory actually benefited from it. At the same time, when their memory was functioning well and they went through with the procedure, the electrical impulses seemed to impair their recall. As such, the team determined that the deep brain stimulation improved the memory function only if administered at the right moment.
This research could bring the “closed loop” treatment one step forward towards being used. A closed loop system of implanted electrodes works by monitoring the brain function in memory areas. As it does so, it also delivers a pulse. But only when the function is low. These sensitive systems could help bring the subtle difference needed for memory improvement.
This study could represent a turning point in neuroscience. The puzzle of the deep brain stimulation’s complicated nature could be one step closer to clarification. More research is needed to distil this concept into an actual therapy.
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