We'd all love to have a better memory. If there was a tool that could make us better at retaining information for exams, or at remembering important facts for a presentation or interview, we would probably pay good money for it.
This is what researchers have been working on at the University of Southern California. According to New Scientist, the team have developed a "memory prosthesis" brain implant, which could enhance human memory. Their findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC.
The device is made up of electrodes which are implanted in the brain. It's supposed to mimic the way we naturally process memories by giving small electric shocks to the hippocampus — the region of the brain involved in learning and memory. These electric burts imitate normal brain activity patterns, so the researchers hope it could help people with memory disorders such as dementia.
A group of 20 volunteers were fitted with the electrodes, and asked to participate in a training session where they were given a simple memory game. Each participant was shown images in a short presentation, then had to recall what they had seen up to 75 seconds later.
The researchers then looked at the responses of neurons in the subjects' brains to see which regions were activated while they were using their memory.
In a second session, the implants were used to stimulate these specific brain areas with micro-electric shocks.
According to the study, the device can boost performance on memory tests by up to 30%. The researchers hope in the future it could be adapted to be used as a tool to improve memory, vision, or movement.
"We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function," Dong Song, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, and one of the authors of the study told New Scientist. "This has never been done before."