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How Brain Implants, VR Could Help Treat Diseases Like Alzheimer’s | News & Opinion

The mind is a mysterious place. Even as the sector of A.I. makes an attempt to emulate its bio-based neuronal firings, there’s a lot we do not but know.

Despite weighing simply three kilos, rather a lot can go incorrect with the 100 billion (or so) neurons inside. Currently, traumatic brain injury is a major cause of dying and incapacity, 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy of their lifetime, and there are 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s.

But think about a future the place sufferers stroll round with neuroprosthetic implants that stimulate mind perform and always monitor oscillations, that are despatched wirelessly to medical specialists in actual time by way of physique sensors. This state of affairs is not too far off.


PCMag met with Dr. Nanthia Suthana, Assistant Professor-in-Residence on the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the place she makes use of VR, movement seize, and mind implants to learn how we encode reminiscences.

Dr. Suthana continues to be within the comparatively early levels of her profession, having acquired her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA lower than a decade in the past. So she brings not one of the outmoded preconceptions of “how things have always been done.” In reality it was a deep want to “solve the unsolvable” that first sparked her curiosity with the mind and its working, or malfunctioning, elements.

“When I was a student, studying abroad in Europe, I was inspired by reading about different patient cases which were considered either unsolvable, or a mystery, in terms of why they were exhibiting the symptoms they had, due to some form of brain damage,” Dr. Suthana informed PCMag. “I used to be notably fascinated by the well-known case of ‘Patient HM‘, who suffered from epilepsy and had his medial temporal lobe eliminated, which is essential for reminiscence formation. In reality, that is the world of the mind I now research.”

To additional her analysis, Dr. Suthana labored in collaboration with Nader Shaterian and Interactive Lab to create a “VR Stadium” at UCLA. It’s a powerful setup: a number of motion-capture cameras in a rig hooked up to the ceiling, which work together wirelessly with topics sporting motion-capture fits, virtual markers/beacons, Samsung Gear VR headsets (and others), and EEG caps with 64-channel electrodes.

The implant, in the meantime, is the RNS System from Silicon Valley-based Neuropace, which tracks mind exercise.

“We take patients through a routine,” defined Dr. Suthana. “Observing them navigating spatial environments via locations which are marked, asking them to recall and repeat sequences, and recording data wirelessly as they’re moving around. We take the data and analyze theta oscillations and their relationship to the patient’s speed, direction, and presence/absence of location markers. We then examine whether, statistically, theta oscillations can predict memory strength.”

Because Dr. Suthana’s technological/neurological mixture within the VR Stadium data knowledge deep inside the mind, whereas the affected person is in movement, this permits her to see how declarative reminiscence—each semantic (information/figures) and episodic (private i.e. “your last trip to Paris”)—is laid down within the mind. Previously, any such knowledge contained in the hippocampus was solely recorded in rats; human topics have been sitting in a hospital mattress having undergone mind surgical procedure—till now.

“This work is bridging the gap between animal experiments and what we can now do with humans,” confirmed Dr. Suthana. “The implant…was developed to treat seizures, but we’re using it for research here; [it’s] crucial to our ability to pinpoint what’s going on in the brain. Previously, where the EEG records brain waves, as a large signal, the implant, which the surgeon inserts with an electrode, and is about 1.5 millimeters in diameter, records deep in the brain, picking up the voltage fluctuations of neurons, such as theta oscillations, which are about 8 Hz per second. The patients I work with usually have four recording locations on the implant from which I can observe them wirelessly.”

By placing them inside VR environments, which may be managed and modified, Dr. Suthana is ready to see precisely what occurs when new reminiscences are laid down, and prior recall introduced forth by the hippocampus for examination and reintegration, as neuroplasticity is shaped. Her work might be used to create a computational mannequin of the human medial temporal reminiscence system, which may inform a future era of neuroprosthetic units.

“We can use these findings in the future to develop treatments to push that particular brain area into a state that’s conducive to learning,” she confirmed. “The other aspect, which is harder to do, is to improve old memories, but those were formed a long time ago. The hippocampus already ‘did its thing’ and it’s now less involved because the memory has become very distributed across the brain. Essentially, it [may] be easier to enhance the process of forming memories. So, if a patient has something like Alzheimer’s, we’ll want to put in the neuroprosthetics early so we can start to stimulate these areas. Any later and there’s a lot of degeneration or progressive cell death already.”

By 2037, Dr. Suthana predicts she’ll have many, many sufferers within the subject utilizing a mixture of future technological units, enabling them to get well, or a minimum of reside with, debilitating mind illnesses.

“I envision much more advanced, wireless, battery-less, implants carrying out single cell recording and oscillations of brain waves, as well as modulating brain function through stimulating. My lab will then be able to do so much more in terms of our research with patients as they go about their everyday lives, while we monitor and modify brain activity. There’s an exciting future of insideables, or implants, linked to wearables, and emerging telemedicine devices, ahead.”

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