Scientists have been going through medical research for memory enhancement for many years. They have finally made a breakthrough. In a study published in the journal Current Biology, neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania have shown that it may be possible to improve memory by using tiny pulses of electricity at exactly the right time. Stimulating the brain when it is predicted to function poorly is effective in enhancing memory. Contrarily, stimulating the brain when it is functioning well impairs memory. The timing made all the difference.
The subjects of the study were a group of patients who have severe epilepsy. As part of their therapy, these individuals already had electrodes temporarily implanted in their brains, facilitating the study using electric stimulation of the brain. However, the earlier studies did not yield successful results. There were times that memory enhancement was achieved and times that memory was impaired.
The team continued studying more epilepsy patients for memory enhancement applications. According to the head of the research team, Michael Kahana, this time, they examined how the effects of stimulation differ during poor memory function versus effective memory function. The research involved patients being treated for epilepsy at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Emory University Hospital, the University of Texas Southwestern, the Mayo Clinic, Columbia University, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, and the University of Washington, as reported by the New York Times.
While receiving safe levels of electrical brain impulses, participants were asked to study and recall lists of common words. During this process, electrical activity from electrodes implanted in the patients’ brains was recorded. Records showed that the identification of electrical patterns predicted whether the patient was going to remember something or not.
The team then did the experiment during their period of effective memory and during their period of poor memory. The result was a breakthrough. The scientists discovered that when electrical impulses arrive during periods of effective memory, memory worsens. However, when the electrical impulse zaps at times of poor function, memory is reported to be significantly improved.
The scientists hope their findings of the memory enhancement breakthrough would be a major step in the goal of helping people with all kinds of brain injury or diseases. The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in an effort to help the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with memory problems caused by traumatic brain injuries.