New Brain Implant Could Restore Lost Functions

Thalamus stimulation
By stimulating part of the thalamus (shown in turquoise), patients with traumatic brain injuries were able to regain some lost mental function. | Image by FERNANDO DA CUNHA/Science Source

Scientists have invented a new brain implant that could improve mental function for those who have suffered brain injuries.

A new study has shown that the implant improved and even restored some brain functions in test subjects.

A new study published in Nature Medicine on December 4 details human trials conducted on five individuals between the ages of 22 and 60 who had suffered brain injuries between three and 18 years ago. Researchers surgically implanted electrodes powered by a pacemaker into each participant’s brain, stimulating specific brain regions, particularly the thalamus.

The thalamus functions as a relay center for the brain, connecting the prefrontal and frontal cortexes, according to the National Library of Medicine. Nicholas Schiff, one of the neurologists who conducted this study, told Science News that stimulating this portion of the brain could restore connections lost during injuries.

Researchers reported favorable results over the 90-day course of the study as the subjects had demonstrated better function, particularly in the attention category. A sixth member of this study, however, was excluded when a scalp infection prompted the removal of the electrodes.

“Processing speed on part B of the trail-making test improved 15% to 52% from baseline, exceeding the 10% benchmark for improvement in all five cases,” read the study. “CL/DTTm deep brain stimulation can be safely applied and may improve executive control in patients with msTBI who are in the chronic phase of recovery.”

A subsequent paper published by Cambridge University detailed interviews with the study subjects and nine family members. One of the subjects and her mother reported “significant intellectual improvement” as she could read and consume media and retain the information.

“After a long hiatus, the subject began reading again,” noting, “That’s a step forward.” At the interview, the subject stated she was on her fourth book when she had not read a book since her injury,” read the paper. Her mother said, “She hasn’t read a book in 18 years, and she’s read six novels. She’s reading. That’s just like, yes. And she retains what she reads, and she talks about it critically, you know? We can have a discussion again.”

This subject also reported improvements in confidence, memory, and social adequacy.

Another subject, as well as his mother and father, had also reported improvements in his attention and his college experience. This individual began receiving better grades and had also demonstrated improvements in writing and speaking.

Schiff wants to conduct a similar study with up to 10 times as many participants in the future and hopes to use this method as a form of therapy.

Such technology is not as far-fetched as some may believe. Elon Musk’s biotechnology Neuralink recently announced that its brain implant was now ready and that they were looking for volunteers to begin human trials, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

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