Shocking your memory awake

A University of California at Los Angeles study has found that light shocks to a person’s brain before they learnt a new task helped strengthen their memory. This study was performed on seven epilepsy patients and researchers feel that it may have implications for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  With the rapid ageing of the U.S. population there is a sense of urgency within the government as well as the medical community about finding a cure for Alzheimer’s which mostly affects the elderly, leaving them completely dependent others for their daily care.

The patients who took part in this study were fitted with pacemakers known as deep brain stimulators to help find the source of their epileptic seizures; the team took this chance to study the effects of stimulating the brain on memory. These pacemakers known as deep brain stimulators made by Medtronic and St. Jude Medical center are already in use to calm the muscle tremors that occur with Parkinson’s disease, and other such disorders. These pacemakers are implanted in the chest under the skin, and have wires that lead up to tiny electrodes that are implanted deep in the brain and produce electrical impulses.

Dr. Itzhak Fried, who worked on the study and is a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said that they focused their research on the entorhinal cortex which is the gateway that sensory stimuli passes through on the way to the hippocampus where they are stored as memories. By stimulating the entorhinal cortex while the subjects were playing a video game, helped them remember events in the game better than when they played without any stimulation or when the hippocampus was stimulated.

It is known that this area of the brain is affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, when dementia is setting in. The wider medical community as well as Dr. Fried feel that this study is a step in the right direction but still too small and preliminary to conclude that a cure for Alzheimer’s is just around the corner. Another study testing deep brain stimulation in Alzheimer’s patients in 2010 also showed some positive results, thus it appears that with detailed study and a lot more work this may be the answer that everyone has been looking for.

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