At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist, Theodore Berger, imagine about a day in the not too outlying future when patients with severe memory loss can get help and aid with the help of an electronic implant. In patient’s whose brains have suffered damage from Alzheimer’s stroke or any other sorts of injuries, the disrupted neural networks often help in preventing the long-term memories from forming. For over two decades, Berger has designed silicon chips to imitate the signal processing, that those neurons do when they’re functioning properly- the work that allows us to recall and experiences and knowledge for more than a minute. Ultimately, Berger wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories by implanting chips in the brain like this.
Berger states that this idea was so daring and was outside the mainstream of neuroscience that most of his colleagues. “They told me I was nuts a long time ago,” he says with a laugh, sitting in a conference room that abuts one of his labs. But given the success of recent experiments carried out by his group and several close collaborators, Berger is shedding the loony label and increasingly taking on the role of a visionary pioneer.
Berger and his partners in the research are yet to conducting human tests of their neural prostheses. Moreover, their experiments prove how a silicon chip is externally connected to monkey and rat brains, with the help of electrodes. These electrodes can help in processing information in the similar way like actual neurons do. Later, he states that “we’re not putting individual memories back into the brain”. “we’re putting in the capacity to generate memories.” In an experiment published last fall, Berger and his co-workers have demonstrated that they are able of helping the monkeys to retrieve from a long-term memory from the part of the brain that is responsible for storing them.
Berger points to other recent successes in neuroprosthetics if in any case, the memory implant sounds like doubtful. The Cochlear implants are known for now helping the deaf people hear by converting sound into electrical signals and sending them to the auditory nerve, the number of these deaf people is found to be around 200,000. In the meanwhile, the early experiments have shown that the implanted electrodes allowed the paralyzed people to move robotic arms with their thoughts. On the other hand, researchers also have achieved initial success with the help of artificial retinas in blind people.
Moreover, restoring a cognition in the brain is far more difficult than any other achievement. The biomedical engineer has already spent almost 35 years in understanding the fundamental questions related to the behavior of neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is found involved in the formation of memory. Berger states that it is very clear that “The hippocampus makes short-term memories into long-term memories.”
Berger has been successful in developing some mathematical theorems that describe how electrical signals move through the neurons of a hippocampus for forming a long-term memory, and he had been successful in proving that his equations match reality. “You don’t have to do everything the brain does, but can you mimic at least some of the things the real brain does?” he asks. “Can you model it and put it into a device? Can you get that device to work in any brain? It’s those three things that lead people to think I’m crazy. They just think it’s too hard.”
However, Berger states that “I never thought I’d see this go into humans, and now our discussions are about when and how” he says. “I never thought I’d live to see the day, but now I think I will.”
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