Together with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the USC has developed a prosthetic device that will help retain memories in memory loss patients.
Memory loss is a chronic condition which is in some cases considered a fate worse than death. The onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Addison’s disease and trauma had increased the chances of memory loss among a large population.
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USC Berkeley have been working with collaboration of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to find a solution. The researchers and scientists from both institutions have developed a prosthetic that will be helpful in long term memory retention.
The prosthetic includes a small array of electrodes implanted into the brain. It has performed well in laboratory testing in animals and is currently being evaluated in human patients.
Originally designed at USC and tested at Wake Forest Baptist, the device has been developed on decades of research by Ted Berger. The working of the prosthetic relies on a new algorithm created by Dong Song.
Berger and Song are both of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The development also builds on more than a decade of collaboration with Sam Deadwyler and Robert Hampson, of the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology of Wake Forest Baptist, who have collected the neural data used to construct the models and algorithms.
The machine working is based on the understanding of short term memory and long term memory formulation. When presented with a stimuli, the brain receives an electric impulse (synapse), which then, if required travels to the hippocampus through neurons’ network.
The hippocampus is responsible to impress the electric impulse into a signal stored in the brain as a memory. This is known as long term memory. The onset of disease and trauma can weaken or damage the ability of hippocampus to translate and transfer the signal into a memory.
Song and Berger found a way to accurately mimic how a memory is translated from short-term memory into long-term memory. They used data obtained by Deadwyler and Hampson, first from animals, and then from humans.
Hampson and Deadwyler read the electrical signals created during memory formation at two regions of the hippocampus, then sent that information to Song and Berger to construct the model.
The team then fed those signals into the model and read how the signals generated from the first region of the hippocampus were translated into signals generated by the second region of the hippocampus.
Their prosthesis is designed to bypass a damaged hippocampal section and provide the next region with the correctly translated memory. That’s despite the fact that there is currently no way of “reading” a memory just by looking at its electrical signal.
The effectiveness of the model was tested by the USC and Wake Forest Baptist teams. In hundreds of trials conducted with nine patients with their permission, electrodes were implanted in their hippocampi to treat chronic seizures. The algorithm accurately predicted how the signals would be translated with about 90 percent accuracy.
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In its next step, the team will attempt to send the translated signal back into the brain of a patient with damage at one of the regions in order to try to bypass the damage and enable the formation of an accurate long-term memory.