Written by Samiha Ali
Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5.5 million people within the United States, with a new individual developing the incurable, neurodegenerative disease every 66 seconds . As the disease progresses in patients, brain cells die and the wiring between them becomes lost, which escalates the cognitive decline and memory loss associated with the illness. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical intervention has thus far proven to be a faulty avenue of treatment, with novel medications continuing to disappoint in clinical trials. A more promising alternative, however, rests in the technique of deep-brain stimulation (DBS).
Deep-brain stimulation passes electrical current through the brain via neural implants that function as cathodes. The implants essentially work like a pacemaker for the brain, delivering electrical signals at a designated time, and targeting specific locations of the brain . Lately, the technique has been considered a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s to improve patients’ cognitive and functional abilities. A recent clinical trial showed that deep-brain stimulation targeting the frontal lobe of the brain reduces the level of performance decline in Alzheimer’s patients . Problem-solving and decision-making skills experienced a slower decay among Alzheimer’s patients undergoing DBS than patients who receive no neural stimulation treatment. Another study utilizing mouse models of Alzheimer’s showed that chronic DBS reduces the brain plaques and tangles that are associated with the disease . Though still not a curative avenue, DBS shows promise as an effective means to improve the quality of life among those living with Alzheimer’s.
The positive effects of deep-brain stimulation extend beyond just Alzheimer’s treatment, with recent findings demonstrating the ability of DBS to improve memory even among normal individuals. In one such study, a DBS neural implant was programmed to target parts of the brain associated with memory retention . Upon sensing a deficiency in this area of the brain, the neural implant triggered an electrical impulse to stimulate the brain and essentially rescue poor memory retention. Put simply, DBS can improve memory dysfunction by zapping the brain to retain information.
The ability of deep brain stimulation and other brain implants to improve memory seems to work towards normalizing the idea of “brain hacking” as a way to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s or to simply enhance the neural capacity of everyday individuals. Neurotech companies like Kernel are dedicated to advancing techniques like DBS as a way to improve human cognition for all, with the eventual goal of having brain implants augment the aging brain much like Lasik fixes deteriorating vision . With continual advancement in deep brain stimulation and other neurological manipulation, it appears that we are not too far off from living in a Black Mirror-esque world.
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 Mann, A., Gondard, E., Tampellini, D., Milsted, J.A., Marillac, D., Hamani, C., Kalia, S.K. and Lozano, A.M. 2018. Chronic deep brain stimulation in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model enhances memory and reduces pathological hallmarks. Brain Stimulation. 11(2): 435-444.
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 Statt, Nick. “Kernel is Trying to Hack the Human Brain — But Neuroscience Has a Long Way to Go.” The Verge. 22 Feb. 2017. 23 Feb. 2018.