A new study published in Nature Communications suggests that electrically zapping the brain at the right place, right time, and right moment might go a long way in boosting memory.
Jolting the brain with electrical pulses has always been a fascination among scientists and neuroscience experts — the belief being that if the right group of neurons are stimulated, a person might behave differently or might perform better at certain tasks. This sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, but it actually might not be too far-fetched an idea.
Electrical Brain Stimulation For Improved Memory?
The said study is only preliminary, but it hints at exciting future possibilities for people with diminishing memory. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania worked with people who suffered from epilepsy, being that they already had electrodes implanted in their brains to monitor the illness.
They asked the participants to memorize a list of certain words, and a computer monitored their brain activity, whereby it learned to predict, based on brain patterns, when the participant was failing to remember a new word.
Then, things got interesting. The subjects were given a list of words to learn yet again. Aside from predicting potential memory lapses, the computer also sent a tiny "zap" of electricity during these times to help the participants remember. This approach worked.
"During each new word the patient viewed, the system would record and analyze brain activity to predict whether the patient had learned it effectively," study author Youssef Ezzyat said. "When the system detected ineffective learning, that triggered stimulation, closing the loop."
"In this study we used closed-loop direct brain stimulation of the human lateral temporal cortex to improve episodic memory performance. By demonstrating that lateral temporal cortex stimulation enhances memory, our findings show that stimulating neural populations outside of the [medial temporal lobes] can reliably improve memory outcomes," the study reads.
"We saw a 15 percent improvement in memory," said Michael Kahana, also an author of the study, adding that the method used might hint at a new way of treating people with memory problems caused by brain injuries or Alzheimer's disease.
Of course, the technology is tremendously far from real-world usage.
Other Experiments Needed
But another author of the study, Michael Sperling, says that people with epilepsy usually have more difficulty with memory than those suffering from other brain anomalies. Lots of experiments must be done — involving people with different brain conditions — to determine whether the treatment would see similar results as their study.
But he's positive the research will eventually result into an implantable device that is able to improve memory. At least in some patients.
"There's a good chance that something like this will come available. I would hope within the next half dozen years, or so."