March 12, 2003
Silicon Chip May Be Brain Hippocampus Replacement

Damage to the hippocampus at the base of the brain can leave a person unable to form new memories. One solution to the problem that is nearing testing is to build a chip that performs all the functions of the hippocampus.

The world's first brain prosthesis - an artificial hippocampus - is about to be tested in California. Unlike devices like cochlear implants, which merely stimulate brain activity, this silicon chip implant will perform the same processes as the damaged part of the brain it is replacing.

The prosthesis will first be tested on tissue from rats' brains, and then on live animals. If all goes well, it will then be tested as a way to help people who have suffered brain damage due to stroke, epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease.

A team led by Theodore W. Berger of USC spent 10 years to build a mathematical model of the hippocampus and then to program it into a silicon chip.

Slices of rat hippocampus were stimulated with electrical signals millions of times, until scientists could be sure which input produced a corresponding output.

Putting the information from each slide together, the researchers were able to devise a mathematical model of a whole hippocampus.

The model was then programmed on to a chip.

From the University of Southern California web site of team leader Theodore W. Berger:

The research of Dr. T.W. Berger involves the complementary use of experimental and theoretical approaches to developing biologically constrained mathematical models of mammalian neural systems. The focus of the majority of current research is the hippocampus, a neural system essential for learning and memory functions. The goal of this research is to address three general issues: (1) the relation between cellular/molecular processes, systems-level functions, and learned behavior; (2) the extent of which the functional dynamics of neural systems are altered by activity-dependent synaptic plasticity; (3) the extent to which the essential functions of a neural system can be incorporated within a hardware representation (e.g., VLSI circuitry).

Experimental studies involve the use of extracellular, intracellular, and whole-cell electrophysiological recording techniques, applied in vivo using anesthetized and chronically implanted animals, and in vitro using hippocampal slice preparations. A number of neurobiological issues are being investigated, including: (1) quantifying the signal processing capabilities of hippocampal neurons and the extent to which these capabilities reflect regulation due to feedforward and feedback circuitry vs. intrinsic neuronal mechanisms, such as voltage-dependent conductances or second messenger biochemical systems; (2) the spatio-temporal distribution of activity in neural networks and its dependence on input pattern and network connectivity; (3) the cellular mechanisms underlying changes in the strength of connections among neurons, i.e., synaptic plasticity, and the influence of synaptic plasticity on signal processing characteristics of neurons and the spatio-temporal distributions of activity in networks.

These and other experimental studies are used in conjunction with several different theoretical approaches to develop models of: (1) the nonlinear, input/output properties of single hippocampal neurons and circuits composed of several populations of hippocampal neurons (in collaboration with Dr. V. Marmarelis, Biomedical Engineering, USC), (2) the hierarchical relationship between synaptic and neuronal events (in collaboration with Dr. G. Chauvet, Institute for Theoretical Biology, University of Angers, France), (3) the kinetic properties of glutamatergic receptor subtypes, and (4) adaptive properties expressed by the "hippocampal-like" neural networks implemented with analog VLSI technology (in collaboration with Dr. B. Sheu, Electrical Engineering, USC).

Suppose the initial tests on rats are successful and the group wants to move onto trying it in humans. There seems to be a problem with how to get patient consent. People who can't form new long term memories may be unable to have the treatment explained to them well enough to be able to evaluate the risks and potential benefits.

Still, this is weird wild stuff. If a chip can be made to emulate the hippocampus can the chip's algorithms be improved upon to make it better than the hippocampus? Could it be turned up to stimulate learning when one is studying material one needs to remember?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 March 12 08:52 PM  Cyborg Tech


Comments
Sherry Herman said at November 12, 2003 9:02 AM:

My brother-in-law at the age of 46; had a heart attack 3 years ago. He was running on the strand in Redondo Beach. The paramedics were able to start his heart again; but the hippocampus was damaged. He later had a quad bypass and a pacemaker put in. He has very little short term memory. He is very frustrated and very angry; because the quality of his life has changed so much. Was wondering will your studies be done on humans in the near furture?

Sherry Herman; Omaha, NE

Randy Oystreck said at September 22, 2004 9:34 AM:

It's been about a year and a half since this article came out and I was wondering how far the testing has come. Has this technology been tested on humans yet? When do you expect to see this chip implanted in a human being? Can people now apply for this procedure? If so what is the criteria you would be looking for? My dad is 77 years old and has Alzheimers. Other than this horrible disease, his health is otherwise almost perfect in every way; so much so, that the doctors and health care professionals refer to his test results as that of a healthy teenager. I know this is a real long shot, but dad, who is so loved, would still have so much to offer, if not for this dementia.

Robin Gentile said at April 12, 2005 9:21 PM:

I am looking for information about a chip that will help people who have a drug adiction problem. I saw this info on a talk show, though I don't remember the show it's important that I find out about this because my brother is in jail now because of his drug problem. When he gets out I want to have one put in him.


Thank you
Robin Gentile.

Robin Gentile said at April 12, 2005 9:21 PM:

I am looking for information about a chip that will help people who have a drug adiction problem. I saw this info on a talk show, though I don't remember the show it's important that I find out about this because my brother is in jail now because of his drug problem. When he gets out I want to have one put in him.


Thank you
Robin Gentile.

M Sedovic said at June 15, 2005 5:40 AM:

We have an autistic 10 year old son that lost his language from vaccines we are interested in the chip implant to regenerate his language and possibly other things for him. Please let us know if he would be a candidate for research when it's approved for humans. We always look for bigger and better things for our son. Thank you so much. Michelle

LUIS ERNESTO RAMOS DURON said at June 16, 2005 10:18 AM:

I am looking for one device so like yours for the application in very criminal people ("patients")that want to be free and work normally like normal people. May be?.
I am a Doctor in México City and We have many problems with heavy criminals.
We are seeking in many articles this possibility and I send a project of law to any friends of mine ( Neurosurgeons and Lawyers), and they are very interested because this cost is more cheap and less dangerous that have this severely illnes people with insulation and degradeted life in the jails, "living with our taxes" for the next 50 years or more. If this device works, the people will turn to a productive and free and better life and the relatives and parents (and all our society) will be happy to live with they in peace.

emerson said at July 8, 2005 1:45 AM:

i am looking "how to do electrical connections in a silicon chip?"can youhelp me?!!

Thomas said at September 10, 2009 9:07 AM:

What Happened? What is today's status on this very interesting development. Saw this study referenced on Discovery channel and this 6 year old report is the "latest" from Google? Have the studies been done on humans yet? When?

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