Brain recording lets scientists watch treatments in action, but could harm memory

| | July 14, 2014

The man in the hospital bed was playing video games on a laptop, absorbed and relaxed despite the bustle of scientists on all sides and the electrodes threaded through his skull and deep into his brain.

“O.K., that’s enough,” he told doctors after more than an hour. “All those memory tests, it’s exhausting.”

The man, Ralph, a health care worker who asked that his last name be omitted for privacy, has severe epilepsy; and the operation to find the source of his seizures had provided researchers an exquisite opportunity to study the biology of memory.

The aim is to develop new treatments for traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Its most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain.

Unlike brain imaging, direct brain recording allows scientists to conduct experiments while listening to the brain’s internal dialogue in real time, using epilepsy patients like Ralph or people with Parkinson’s disease as active collaborators.

The technique has provided the clearest picture yet of how neural circuits function, and raised hopes of new therapies for depression and anxiety as well as cognitive problems. But experts also worry about the possible side effects of directly tampering with memory.

Read the full, original story: Probing brain’s depth, trying to aid memory

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