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Tuesday, 17 November 2015 00:00

New implant could reverse Alzheimer’s

A project funded by the US military to find a way to help soldiers with brain injuries overcome memory loss, has inadvertently resulted in scientists potentially developing an electronic implant to help brains damaged by Alzheimer’s. The implant could potentially help retain memories by taking over certain areas of diseased brains to help convert a short-term memory into one that is permanent.   
 
Researchers have previously used implanted devices to enable people who are paralysed to move false arms together with their own limbs.   This new technology for brain disorders has already reached human test stage and has been tested on nine people in the United States with epilepsy, to treat chronic seizures.    
 
Alzheimer’s is caused by a build- up of amyloid proteins which causes the brain to degenerate and become unable to retain new long term memories.  The device includes a small array of electrodes which are designed to potentially replicate the function of the hippocampus, which is to retain memories, in a damaged or diseased brain.   The researchers read the electrical signals that are created in the patients’ brains after being asked to conduct simple tasks.   A computer program is then developed that could determine with 90% accuracy how the signals would translate.   The ability to predict brain signals means the potential for scientists to create technology which can support or replace the functions of damaged sections of the brain.
 
Speaking at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society conference in Milan, the head of the project Ted Burger said “It’s like being able to translate from Spanish to French without being able to understand either language.”
 
While this exciting new technology is the first time ever that scientists anywhere, have used computers to manipulate memory signals directly in the human brain, an implanted device could only effectively slow down the progression of symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but it will not be able to reverse or cure the disease.   

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