Brain Prosthesis: Coming to a Hospital Near You?




Neuroscience and Neurology CategoryThe possibility of fusing a mechanical device with the human brain becomes a reality.

Ladies and gentleman, I would like to introduce you to a new piece of technology. Lo and behold, the brain prosthesis. Wait. Did I just say brain prosthesis, as in an artificial replacement of the mind? Yes, that’s right; the brain prosthesis is going to be used to replace the damaged parts of our brain.

Hundreds of individuals who have lost their body parts due to traumatic injuries or congenital defects have already chosen to get artificial replacements. To elaborate, a patient may want to get a synthetic limb because of a missing arm or an ocular prosthesis because of a damaged eye. However, never would we ever consider replacing a damaged brain. But according to scientists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, a silicon chip could be used to replace the hippocampus, part of the forebrain involved in forming memories. This may provide great hope for people who have suffered from stroke and epilepsy or for those currently battling Alzheimer’s disease. That’s wonderful news.

MRICurrently, Dr. Theodore Berger and his team of colleagues at the university are testing their prosthetic device on a live rat. Their preliminary data showed positive results. They have created a device, successfully mimicking the activity of biological signals in the hippocampal circuit. According to mathematical models, this microchip, incorporated in the brain tissue, matched perfectly with an intact brain slice without the chip. Thus, the researchers’ next step is to use and study animal models.

Could this possibly work? I’m optimistic. Though, it may very well come with complications, both ethically and biologically. First and foremost, our bodies could reject this foreign object. Secondly, ethicists will certainly raise valid arguments over the procedure that will tamper with the patients’ identities. Most importantly, the role of the human brain is intricate. It is where we interpret our conscious thoughts and emotions. But at a time where accidents and diseases will inevitably rob our memories, sometimes we need these recollections that shape who we are. Hence, research in this field, combining neuroscience and technology, should continue.

Nevertheless, I wonder how many people out there would want this procedure if it does work and if it is going to be given a green light. If drugs can’t fully work, maybe biomedical engineering can help revolutionize medicine. Perhaps scientists can replace other parts of the brain. A scary thought. I’m also curious to know if the current prosthesis would really help a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, because there will still be the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned.

Reference

Philips, H. (2008) Brain prosthesis passes live tissue test. NewScientist.

Waynekid Kam

Waynekid Kam is a Duke University student. He has worked for the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
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