New neural device ‘could help restore memory in epilepsy patients’

A man looking pensive and concerned. Ref: www,dreamstime.com

An implantable neural device is being developed in the US that could offer the potential to help restore memory among patients with neurological conditions such as epilepsy.

Currently being researched by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, the unit will have the ability to record and stimulate neurons within the brain to help bridge gaps in the injured brain and restore the ability to form new memories, while also accessing previously formed ones.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a division of its Department of Defense, has recently provided the lab with funding of around $2.5 million (£1.46 million) to support the study, underlining its potential importance.

It is known that certain types of illness and injury – including traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy – disrupt this process and cause memory loss. As such, the LLNL team will develop a neuromodulation system that will investigate areas of the brain associated with memory in order to better understand how new memories are formed.

From this point, a miniature, wireless and chronically implantable neural device will be created for insertion into injured brains. Implanted into the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus – both regions associated with memory – the device will allow for stimulation and recording from 64 channels, located on a pair of high-density electrode arrays.

The unit will be capable of wireless data and power telemetry, with an accompanying external electronic system worn around the ear to be used to store digital information associated with memory storage and retrieval, as well as to provide power telemetry to the implantable package.

It is hoped that a prototype device can be produced for clinical testing by 2017.

LLNL project leader Satinderpall Pannu, director of the laboratory’s centre for Bioengineering, said: “Currently, there is no effective treatment for memory loss resulting from conditions like TBI. This is a tremendous opportunity from DARPA to leverage Lawrence Livermore’s advanced capabilities to develop cutting-edge medical devices that will change the healthcare landscape.”

Brain damage and injuries are commonly associated with the onset of epilepsy. The presence of memory difficulties in people with epilepsy is well recognised, manifesting in a number of different ways.

Posted by Anne Brown