Aug 22 2016
Brain Chip to Help People with Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease can be a tough go. So one researcher is looking at how we can improve the quality of life for these people using a brain chip. Even the smallest of improvements in memory can help a person living with Alzheimer’s maintain their dignity and, hopefully, independence. Alzheimer’s is of particular interest because it affects one in nine people over the age of 65.
Dr. Theodore Berger, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California and director of USC’s Center of Neural Engineering, has engineered a brain chip that can mimic the brain signals fired off in the hippocampus, where the brain translates memories from short to long term memory. He has already had some success testing the chip in rats and monkeys.
The doctor has spent his career trying to figure out how neurons store memories to help people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and traumatic brain injury.
Over the past twenty years, he’s been trying to develop brain prostheses that mimic the processing that occurs in the hippocampus.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a particular interest in the brain chip that could help wounded soldiers heal from traumatic brain injuries and has funded the studies in rats and monkeys.
One technology entrepreneur, Bryan Johnson, who sold his payments company Braintree to PayPal for $800 million in 2013, has invested in the company Kernel that is building the brain chip to help people who deal with Alzheimer’s, strokes, and concussions.
Johnson had a particular interest in artificial intelligence, so he put a team together of the best neuroscientists, led by Dr. Berger.
After success in animal models, Berger is getting ready to test his brain chip on human patients. For ten months, they have been building a prototype of the brain chip and are going to now start testing it in epilepsy patients in hospitals.
Johnson told the Washington Post that he wants to make the product widely affordable, but that will come with challenges in the beginning of the process. Many inventions start out for a select few and then branch out to serve everybody.
The biggest challenge is making the device portable. Right now, the epilepsy patients they are testing on have to have temporary electrodes placed on their brains.
The other challenge is to perfect the algorithm so that it will always predict what the unique code is in each human brain that emits electrical signals and consistently, successfully stores memories.