Some fascinating work being done by a neuro-medical group at University of Southern California points to the real possibility that practical brain implants to repair and restore memory function lost in Alzheimer’s disease could be reality in a few decades.
Dr. Theodore Berger, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neurobiology at USC, runs a group that has developed a hardware/software system that appears to restore damaged memory function. The system has been tested in mouse models, and is slated to be tested in people with severe epilepsy symptoms. Photo credit Center for Neural Engineering, USC.
The “hardware” piece is a miniaturized set of electrodes implanted near the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for recording, storing and retrieving long term memories (and one of the first areas of the brain that is damaged in Alzheimer’s.)
The “software” part of the system is responsible for translating the neuron firing rates being recorded by the electrode array into output that can be understood by other neural networks in the brain (frontal cortex, motor cortex, etc.)
If this seems a little far fetched, keep in mind there are already working neural prosthetics that can translate neuron firing rates from the human motor cortex into finely tuned movements in a mechanical arm and hand.
Once the basic science is validated and replicated in humans, the next steps will include coming up with practical ways to “install” devices in the brain – an engineering, and maybe artistic challenge.
See also: Brain Stimulation Devices