Small brain "zaps" could help boost memory

A new study found that the electric stimulation of certain brain areas could work to boost memory.
By Joseph Scalise | Feb 10, 2018
Electrically stimulating the brain in the right place at the right time may help boost memory, a new studypublished in Nature Communications reports.

For years, scientists have wondered about zapping the brain with small electrical pulses. That is because many believe jostling certain neurons could cause a person to behave differently or perform tasks more efficiently. While that idea seems a bit out there, a group of researchers from the University from Pennsylvania showed that it could have some merit.

In the research, the team analyzed people with epilepsy who already had electrodes implanted into their brains. They asked participants to memorize certain words while a computer monitored their brain activity. During that time, the computer also sent a small "zap" to specific areas of the brain to help the participants better retain the words. This approach worked and helped increase memory by roughly 15 percent.

"During each new word the patient viewed, the system would record and analyze brain activity to predict whether the patient had learned it effectively," said lead author Youssef Ezzyat, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, according toTech Times. "When the system detected ineffective learning, that triggered stimulation, closing the loop."

The scientists used closed-loop brain stimulation of the human lateral temporal cortex to improve episodic memory performance. This suggests that the stimulation of certain neurons outside of medial temporal lobes may be able to help people better remember certain things.

While the technology is a long way away from having real-world applications, it is a promising start. Not only that, but the method could one day be used to aid people with diseases like Alzheimer's. However, many more trials must be done on a wide range of brain conditions before any definitive conclusions can be reached.

"There's a good chance that something like this will come available," added study co-author Michael Sperling, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, according to NPR. "I would hope within the next half dozen years, or so."

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