Two teams creating devices that stimulate the brain to restore
memory function have been granted $37.5 million (£21.9 million) by Darpa to
develop the technology.
Both will initially work with people with epilepsy who have been
given implants to locate where their seizures originate. The
researchers will reuse the data gathered during this process to
monitor other brain activity — such as the patterns that occur
when the brain stores and retrieves memories.
One team will then attempt to map these patterns by recording
the brain activity of epilepsy sufferers with mild memory problems
while they play a computer game about remembering things. The
pattern differences between the best and worst scores among these
patents will be used to develop an algorithm for a personalised
stimulation pattern to keep the brain performing at an optimal
The second team will create a small device to be implanted into
the brain, which can record and analyse electrical activity in real
time, as well as deliver stimulation. A specific part of the
brain’s entorhinal cortex — the area that feeds information into
the hippocampus — will be targeted.
So far, there is no evidence of any side effects of this
technique, but the team is taking precautions to minimise
disruption to other areas of the brain — such as using extremely
low levels of stimulation.
It’s hoped that the work will be able to treat different types
of memory loss — including that from Alzheimer’s disease. But no
device can restore memories that have been “lost” — just enhance
the ability to form and retrieve new ones.
The leader of the first team, Michael Kahana at the University
of Pennsylvania, said: “We’ve got to help people before they forget
the names of their children.”