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This article was published in July 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

‘Sci-fi’ brain chip improves memory function

10 Jul 2013

An implantable microchip has been developed to help people with neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Where people have trouble with their memories, the new chip can process and store memories on the brain’s behalf

The microchip has been compared to some kind of cybernetic science-fiction implant on account of its futuristic purpose. It has been designed by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) to replace – or at least reinforce – damaged parts of the hippocampus.

The hippocampus can often be the centre of epileptic activity in the brain. It is also the place in the brain that collects information that we sense and what we think and feel, stored as a short-term memory. The hippocampus then converts all that data into a long-term memory – the kind of thing we’d remember for life. These memories might be weddings or the births of children or holidays.

Older African American couple on the beachThe process of converting short-term into long-term memories is very complex. In the case of a person with epilepsy or Alzheimer’s, these memory ‘files’ might not be converted and stored properly. The microchip is designed to replace damaged sections of the hippocampus – converting the memories when the brain cannot.

The chip is implanted directly into the hippocampus. The chip records signals that it recognises as short-term memories. These signals are then sent through a tiny computer that translates the information into a long-term memory.

Not only does the chip effectively replace damaged pieces of the hippocampus, it also reinforces pieces that remain intact. While only just being tested in humans, the chip has significantly improved the memory functions of laboratory animals. It might dramatically improve the memory functions of people with epilepsy if it can be developed for human use.

The device was presented early in June at the Global Future 2045 International Congress by Prof Theodore Berger. For more information, read the USC press release.

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