Hippocampus, the part of the brain with a major role in forming long-term memories
A memory device may be implanted in a small number of human volunteers within two years and the device might become available to anyone within five to ten years. A maverick neuroscientist, Theodore Berger, believes he has deciphered the code by which the brain forms long-term memories.
Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, envisions a day in the not too distant future when a patient with severe memory loss can get help from an electronic implant.
In people whose brains have suffered damage from Alzheimer’s, stroke, or injury, disrupted neuronal networks often prevent long-term memories from forming. For more than two decades, Berger has designed silicon chips to mimic the signal processing that those neurons do when they’re functioning properly—the work that allows us to recall experiences and knowledge for more than a minute. Ultimately, Berger wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories by implanting chips like these in the brain.
As reported by the CNN and MIT Technology Review, the researchers have already experimented on rat and monkey brains, proving that brain messages can be replicated by electrical signals from a silicon chip.
‘We’re not putting individual memories back into the brain. We’re putting in the capacity to generate memories.’, clarified Berger the basics of their research. He also said “I never thought I’d see this go into humans, and now our discussions are about when and how. I never thought I’d live to see the day.”, adding “I might not benefit from it myself but my kids will.”
Berger and his colleagues are planning human studies. He is collaborating with clinicians at his university who are testing the use of electrodes implanted on each side of the hippocampus to detect and prevent seizures in patients with severe epilepsy. If the project moves forward as envisioned, Berger’s group will piggyback on the trial to look for memory codes in those patients’ brains.
You can find more details about the research and its background on CNN and MIT Technology Review.