What Are Memory Implants?

Imagine a world in which, instead of going to school and learning things, you simply implanted a chip into your brain that contained all of the information you needed to know! This may sound like something from Rick and Morty or another sci-fi show. But thanks to the research of Professor Theodore Berger from the University of Southern California, memory implants are slowly becoming a reality.

What are Memory Implants ?

memory implants
These chips enable mice to recover lost memories

A memory implant is a small device that looks like a chip – the kind you find in a computer, not the kind you eat. Typical computer chips are made of silicon, because silicon is a semiconductor. A semiconductor is a solid material which conducts electricity in a certain way so that the electricity can reach all of the small devices contained on a computer chip. Dr. Berger’s group has developed silicon chips that can be placed in the brains of mice instead of in computers. Don’t worry; they aren’t making an army of super-smart mice. These chips enable mice to recover lost memories by stimulating the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for forming and storing memories.

How do Memory Implants work?

Electrical impulses travel from the neuron via the axon. Then the impulse has to cross a synapse to reach another neuron.

The brain is made up of over 100 billion brain cells, called neurons. These neurons act like cell phones for the brain by relaying important messages. Conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease or stroke can disrupt the communication that happens between brain cells. Memory implants may be one option to help neurons talk to each other better.
When implanted into the brains of mice, Dr. Berger’s silicon chip memory implants can mimic the real activity of brain cells. And this mimicking is a good thing. Memory implants are not the first device to artificially stimulate brain activity. People with particular types of deafness use cochlear implants to help convert sound into electrical signals and make it easier for the brain to process sounds.

What will Memory Implants be used for in the future?

For now, memory implants do not put memories back into the brain. But experiments have shown that memory implants can communicate with neurons when connected to rat and monkey brains. (Nope still not making super mice or monkeys.) In the future, these implants could be used for a variety of treatments to improve memory in disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Will you be able to get a memory implant instead of going to math class? Let’s put it this way: if you have math test next week, you better study. It will be a while before memory implants can actually implant knowledge. But memory implants have shown some promise in the laboratory as a way to recover lost brain function. The future for these implants is exciting and no longer just the stuff of science fiction.

Article originally published in Smore Issue #3.


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