There has been some recent research at the University of Southern California and also Wake Forest University with rats to attempt to create memory patterns that will be retained and improve brain function. They have been able to restore memory by flicking a switch that enabled trained rats to remember which lever of two identical ones to press to receive water. Even when distracted after one lever was pushed they were able to resume and remember which one they had pressed and the one to push to complete the sequence. With the switch off they failed to remember which lever to press and in which order.
The device transmitted information to a computer and consisted of implants of tiny electrodes threaded into a structure in the brain that is crucial for the forming of new memories. This is the same in humans as in rats and two parts of the brain known as CA1 and CA3 communicates with each other with the brain learning the information and storing it. The scientists at Wake Forest led by Dr Sam A. Deadwyler were able to introduce a drug to shutdown activity in CA1. Without CA1 activated the rats could not remember which lever to press and the rule – to push the opposite lever to the one that first appeared. The implant when switched on activated CA1 and the rat’s memory returned.
The scientist found that after distracting the rats for a considerable time their new memories faded by 40%. With the activity of CA1 being amplified by the use of the implant the memories only eroded by 10%. The scientists believe that with the use of wireless technology and computer chips this system could be used for humans. However the human brain is much more diverse and complex in its neural processes, so more research is needed to establish whether it is just this region that is affected.
Other technical problems in humans is that the signals produced by the brain in some patients may be too weak and those with severe memory problems may not be able to improve. These obstacles are being considered and the intent is to test the procedure on primates with the objective of confirming the technology to help people suffering from strokes, dementia, Alzheimer’s and memory loss through accidents.