Human memory is one of those things that no one misses until they lose it that is. While everyone forgets their keys from time to time, suffering from more serious memory loss can be completely debilitating as anyone with a brain injury or dementia can attest.
Scientists have been working on ways to improve and even restore memory loss for years while the internet is full of tips and tricks for enhancing our memories. Here’s a look at one of the latest innovations regarding improving your memory.
Computer Chips to Make Memorization Possible?
Researchers at Wake Forest University and the University of Southern California have made a breakthrough; using a computer chip to replace areas in the brain.
Forming New Memories
CNN describes the hippocampus as a small, seahorse-shaped part of the brain that’s essential to forming new memories – both long and short term. If this area gets damaged in an accident or due to an illness like dementia it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people to form new memories.
The researchers, under the leadership of Sam A. Deadwyler, have developed a ‘hippocampus chip’ that, when implanted into the brain not only repairs memory but, can help the recipient to learn new things as well. At the moment the chip has only been tested in rats and actual human trials are still years, if not decades, away from becoming a reality.
How it Works
Benedict Carey from the New York Times explains the process; in both rats and humans, there are two neighboring parts of the hippocampus that communicate with each other as the brain learns and then stores new memories. These regions are called CA1 and CA3. The device developed by Deadwyler and his team is designed to fit in between these two areas. When disabling CA1 with a drug the team discovered that the chip was able to act as CA1 in a controlled experiment.
The researchers inserted the chip and trained rats to recall which lever to press to receive water, distracting them in the process to make sure that they were forced to memorize the correct one. They then disabled the CA1 part of the hippocampus, activating the chip which they found could then act as CA1 – ‘remembering’ the synaptic impulses that part of the brain sent to CA3.
The Implications for Human Memory
The implication is that the chip could be programmed to mimic a damaged part of the hippocampus and in so doing ‘restore’ memory. The problem at the moment is that the chip needs to record the memory it needs to replace first – something that could be impossible when it comes to a human brain as the synaptic impulses may be too weak to be recorded, or damaged too badly.
As such there is still a lot of work to be done before researchers can even contemplate testing the chip in human trials but, this progress is a significant step in the right direction. Just imagine; even if the chip can’t recall the full scope of human memory it could enable patients to regain basic memories like how to switch on the stove or where the bathroom is – memories that could make a vast difference to the lives of patients.