SALT LAKE CITY (April 3, 2017) – Full or partial memory loss is a severe issue not only for the elderly but also for veterans returning from combat. However, technology developed by Utah’s own Blackrock Microsystems LLC is helping neuroscience researchers not only better understand how memory functions in the human brain, but also when electrical stimulation of the neural circuits involved in memory formation can improve degraded memory performance.
In research findings to be published in a forthcoming paper in the journal Current Biology, a team of neuroscience researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has shown for the first time that electrical stimulation delivered when memory is predicted to fail can improve memory function in the human brain. The same type of stimulation generally becomes disruptive when electrical pulses arrive during periods of effective memory function. The researchers used Blackrock’s CereStim96 and NeuroPort Biopotential Signal Processing System to stimulate the brain and analyze the respective brain signals.
The University of Pennsylvania team is led by Michael Kahana, and is funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‘s (DARPA), “Restoring Active Memory” (RAM) program. This four-year project is funded to accelerate the development of technology able to address the public health challenge of traumatic brain injury and to help service members and others overcome memory deficits by developing new neuroprosthetics to bridge gaps in the injured brain.
Neurosurgical patients receiving treatment for epilepsy at nine medical centers across the U.S.A. were enrolled in the study and were asked to study and recall lists of common words while receiving safe levels of brain stimulation. Kahana’s team examined how the effects of stimulation differed during poor versus effective memory function. “We found that when electrical stimulation arrives during periods of effective memory, memory worsens,” Kahana said. “But when the electrical stimulation arrives at times of poor function, memory is significantly improved.” Kahana likens it to traffic patterns in the brain. Stimulating the brain during a backup restores the normal flow of traffic.
The investigational system developed by the University of Pennsylvania team for this study utilized key components from Blackrock Microsystems, including the NeuroPort Biopotential Signal Processing System and the CereStim 96. “We are proud to be in the position to support this cutting-edge research project with our products,” said Blackrock founder Florian Solzbacher. “The Restoring Active Memory program has the potential to improve the lives of the 1.7 million people treated for traumatic brain injury each year in the United States,” Solzbacher added.
In order to facilitate further research, the RAM team publicly has also released an extensive intracranial brain recording and stimulation dataset that includes more than 1,000 hours of data from 150 patients performing memory tasks. “It’s great to see how so many bright minds are working together to make a difference to millions of patients around the world with neurological diseases. We are looking forward to being a part of future breakthroughs,” Solzbacher said.
About Blackrock Microsystems LLC
Blackrock Microsystems, based in Salt Lake City, was founded in 2008 and has become the world’s leading provider of technology in the neuroscience, neural engineering, and neural prosthetics space. The Company’s technology has been at the core of worldwide innovations in Brain Machine Interfaces, implantable bionic technologies and epilepsy diagnostics. www.blackrockmicro.com
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