Brain implants restore cognitive abilities wiped out by traumatic brain injuries

Brain implants restore cognitive abilities wiped out by traumatic brain injuries

Twenty years ago, Gina Arata was in her final semester of college, planning to apply to law school, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. It wiped out much of her mental ability, destroying her dream of being a lawyer. She ended up in a job sorting mail, and struggled to handle that job.

“I couldn’t remember anything,” said Arata. “My left foot dropped, so I’d trip over things all the time. I was always in car accidents. And I had no filter — I’d get pissed off really easily.”

But then, she learned about research being conducted at Stanford University, and was accepted as a participant in a study. In 2018, physicians surgically implanted a device deep inside her brain, then carefully calibrated the device’s electrical activity to stimulate the networks the injury had smothered. As Stanford notes, “She noticed the difference immediately: When she was asked to list items in the produce aisle of a grocery store, she could rattle off fruits and vegetables. Then a researcher turned the device off, and she couldn’t name any.”

“Since the implant I haven’t had any speeding tickets,” Arata notes. “I don’t trip anymore. I can remember how much money is in my bank account. I wasn’t able to read, but after the implant I bought a book, Where the Crawdads Sing, and loved it and remembered it. And I don’t have that quick temper.”

For Arata and several other people, the experimental deep-brain-stimulation device has restored, to varying degrees, the mental abilities they once had before their brain injuries. The new technique, discovered by Stanford medical researchers, is the first to have a tangible impact in counteracting the permanent brain damage from moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries.

The results of the study were published two weeks ago in Nature Medicine. As Stanford notes, “More than 5 million Americans live with the lasting effects of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury — difficulty focusing, remembering and making decisions. Though many recover enough to live independently, their impairments prevent them from returning to school or work and from resuming their social lives. ”

“In general, there’s very little in the way of treatment for these patients,” notes Jaimie Henderson, a professor and neurosurgeon who worked on the study. In their brains, “It’s as if the lights had been dimmed and there just wasn’t enough electricity to turn them back up.”

The central lateral nucleus is a a hub that regulates many facets of consciousness. “The central lateral nucleus is optimized to drive things broadly, but its vulnerability is that if you have a multifocal injury, it tends to take a greater hit because a hit can come from almost anywhere in the brain,” said Nicholas Schiff, a co-author of the study.  The researchers theorized that electrical stimulation of the central lateral nucleus and its connections could reactivate critical pathways of the brain, turning the lights back up.

As Stanford notes,

In the trial, the researchers recruited five participants who had lasting cognitive impairments more than two years after moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. They were aged 22 to 60, with injuries sustained three to 18 years earlier.

The challenge was placing the stimulation device in exactly the right area, which varied from person to person. Each brain is shaped differently to begin with, and the injuries had led to further modifications.

“That’s why we developed a number of tools to better define what that area was,” Henderson said. The researchers created a virtual model of each brain that allowed them to pinpoint the location and level of stimulation that would activate the central lateral nucleus.

Guided by these models, Henderson surgically implanted the devices in the five participants.

“It’s important to target the area precisely,” he said. “If you’re even a few millimeters off target, you’re outside the effective zone.”

After a two-week titration phase to optimize the stimulation, the participants spent 90 days with the device turned on for 12 hours a day.

Their progress was measured by a standard test of mental processing speed, called the trail-making test, which involves drawing lines connecting a jumble of letters and numbers….At the end of the 90-day treatment period, the participants had improved their speeds on the test, on average, by 32%….For the participants and their families, the improvements were apparent in their daily lives. They resumed activities that had seemed impossible — reading books, watching TV shows, playing video games or finishing a homework assignment. They felt less fatigued and could get through the day without napping.

In other news, skull implants could fight depression.

Scientists have developed tiny robots made of human cells to repaid damaged cells. Nanorobots are also being used to fight cancer. “In a major advancement in nanomedicine, Arizona State University scientists…have successfully programmed nanorobots to shrink tumors by cutting off their blood supply,” reported Next Big Future.

Doctors recently used a surgical robot to carry out incredibly complicated spinal surgery, and used a robot to do a liver transplant. Robots can fit in small spaces in people’s bodies that a surgeon can’t reach without cutting through living tissue.

Artificial intelligence is now developing highly-effective antibodies to fight disease. Doctors overseas are using artificial intelligence to detect cases of breast cancer more effectively.

Artificial wombs could be coming soon, to prevent premature babies from dying or being permanently disabled due to premature life outside the womb. Doctors are already beginning to do womb transplants. A woman who was previously unable to have children recently received her sister’s womb in the first womb transplant in the United Kingdom. (Her sister already has kids).

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.