Electrodes in Your Brain: A New Approach to Treating Disease?

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May 31, 2008 | 32,151 views

As Alzheimer’s disease threatens to reach epidemic proportions in the United States in coming years, researchers are coming up with all sorts of ideas about how to restore memory.
Take, for instance, neurosurgeon Andres Lozano from the University of Toronto, who was testing deep-brain stimulation, in which electrical current is delivered directly to your brain, as a treatment for obesity. Much to his surprise, while the patient‘s weight showed little change, his memory improved significantly.

Lozano has formed a company to commercialize the technique as an Alzheimer‘s therapy, and it is currently being tested on six patients in the early stages of the disease.

Recently, deep-brain stimulation has become a routine treatment for Parkinson‘s disease. Scientists are also testing it as a way to treat a growing number of other disorders, including epilepsy, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The procedure involves a thin electrode surgically implanted into your brain, stimulating neurons in areas affected by disease. The voltage is controlled by a power pack implanted in the patient‘s chest.

Lozano found that turning on the electrical stimulation triggered old memories in his obesity patient; the higher the voltage, the more details he recalled. After several months of low-level stimulation, testing revealed that the man‘s memory had significantly improved.

Is this Technology Fantastic or Abusive?

In experiments on rats, the researchers found that electrical stimulation of the brain seems to drive the production of new memories and new brain cells.

So this technology may very well work to improve memory function -- but at what expense?

It does not come close to addressing the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s or any other disease. Not to mention that it’s very invasive, and its long-term effects are a complete mystery.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally

To keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay, follow these tips that address the problem at its roots:
And if you’re looking for a way to stimulate your mind, I’d try board games, crossword puzzles, travel, or a class at a community college long before I’d let electrodes be implanted in my brain.

Besides, natural mental stimulation -- including personality traits like imagination and curiosity -- is strongly associated with better memory, and the only “side effects” of natural mental challenges are good ones.

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