After successful experiments on mice and monkeys, the University of Southern California UCLA is now experimenting on people with a chip that records memories.
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from memory problems. Also for people with a 'normal' memory, a hardware extension that makes remembering easier would be very welcome. Not to mention the options for storing memories in the cloud or in a flash memory. You could learn a new language or another subject in a fraction of a second. In short: quite important.
DARPA, the US military's research institute (in itself reason to pay extra attention), is paying Theodore Berger, a PhD biomedical engineer at UCLA, to conduct groundbreaking research into the possibilities of reading and recording memories. In short: read and write access to our memory.
This is extremely difficult at first glance. Our brains are radically different in structure from today's Neumann architecture-based computers. There is no processor in our brain, but around one hundred billion neurons, brain cells that are interconnected with dendrites (the input) and an axon (the output cable). Nevertheless, Berger seems to have succeeded, this after 35 years of diligent work. To do this, he cracked the code of the brain's 'microcontroller' that transfers short-term memories to long-term memory: the hippocampus. This is located deep under the cerebral cortex, against the limbic system.
The hippocampus receives stimuli in the area CA3, which are processed in the hippocampus and sent via the area CA1 to the memory store: the cortex (cerebral cortex).
If you were able to crack the function of the hippocampus, you could remember things at will, with the limitations of the brain's (rather slow) biological hardware, of course.
Reminder stored on chip
Berger has now achieved the latter. For this he assumed that memories consist of series of electrical pulses. That's how neurons communicate with each other. He exposed rats to the familiar reward lever and monitored the neurons of their hippocampus. He stored the CA1 signals, the output, in a chip. The test animal was then given a drug that inhibits long-term memory storage. As a result, the rat no longer knew that pulling the lever was a reward. After the stored stimulus set was passed back to area CA1, the rat recovered the memory. For the first time in history, it has been possible to digitally store and retrieve a memory (in rats at least) . It should be borne in mind that memories undergo further processing in the cortex and are sometimes only permanently stored as a long-term memory after years. The principle also works well for the medium-term memory.
Monkeys and humans
The next step the team took was to store images in animals with a more complex brain: monkeys. Images are processed in the prefrontal cortex in monkeys and therefore also in humans. Again, the relationship between CA3 input and CA1 output was measured. After some mathematical operations, the team succeeded in making a correct prediction of what the CA1 output would look like in 80% of the cases. In other words, their device can almost completely replace the hippocampus. As it turned out, the team managed to replace a disabled hippocampus and capture memories. Monkeys with memory disorders appeared to be cured by the implant .
The next step, in 2014, was taken in collaboration with twelve human volunteers. Given the dangers of brain surgery, the researchers chose epilepsy patients, who already have electrodes in the brain. Epilepsy is characterized by uncontrolled explosions of firing neurons. The disease affected their hippocampus in the group of volunteers. The same strategy was applied here too. The group makes no statements about the preliminary results, but there appears to be a positive result with regard to the formation of memories . This would be very big news. Then we are on the right track in terms of treating diseases such as Alzheimer's and other memory disorders. There is also a downside to this technique. With this you can implant false memories. Fortunately, Berger seems to realize this very well  and therefore consciously opts for a prosthesis that only helps the patient to better store memories. Not to implant memories of your choice by someone else. In Berger's words, "I mean, that has a creep factor of about, on a scale from 1-10 it's about a 12." Enter Manchurian Candidate ed
1. Berger TW, Hampson RE, Song D, Goonawardena A, Marmarelis VZ, Deadwyler SA. A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory. Journal of Neural Engineering. 2011; 8 (4): 046017. doi: 10.1088 / 1741-2560 / 8/4/046017.
2. Hampson RE, Gerhardt GA, Marmarelis V, Song D, Opris I, Santos L, Berger TW, Deadwyler SA., Facilitation and restoration of cognitive function in primate prefrontal cortex by a neuroprosthesis that utilizes minicolumn-specific neural firing. J Neural Eng. 2012 Oct; 9 (5): 056012. Epub 2012 Sep 13.
3. Brain implant could help people with memory loss, Alzheimer News, 2015
4. Theodore Berger lecture at Global Future 2045 Congress, 2015