Researchers in the USA have developed a brain implant designed to help people to form new memories even when the memory centre of the brain, called the hippocampus, is damaged.
The device includes a small array of electrodes which can – it is hoped – replicate the function of the hippocampus in memory formation in a damaged or diseased brain.
Earlier work has developed and tested these implants in rodents and non-human primates. New research using electrodes in people with epilepsy has been able to model the activity of the human hippocampus but the implant has not yet been tested in people.
Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
‘Although this sounds like the stuff of science fiction stories, the researchers are addressing a major problem for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – the ability to lay down new memories. The practical upshot of this is that people may have clear memories of events from their childhood but can’t remember the details of what took place yesterday.
‘The hippocampus is vital for remembering new events, people and places and it’s one of the first parts of the brain to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. In theory this device has the potential to help people to form new memories even when their hippocampus is damaged.
‘A prosthetic memory device is a very exciting prospect, but it has taken decades of research to get this far and there are still many unknowns that need to be worked out by the scientists. It’s encouraging to see these cutting edge technologies being applied to help people affected by memory loss, but this isn’t something that people with dementia can expect to be readily available in the next decade.
‘If this device is developed further and successfully tested in humans, it could prove to be an effective treatment for some of the symptoms of dementia, however it will not cure or slow down the progression of the condition.’