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Gary Marcus of NYU discusses the future of  brain implants discusses on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty.

 

One technology, Deep brain stimulators, has the potential to change change lives by returning the power of movement to quadriplegics and helping the acutely depressed.

 

Used by thousands of Parkinson’s patients around the world, the Deep Brain Stimulator  sends electrical pulses deep into the brain’s motor cortex which actives  pathways involved in movement.  In order to implant a deep brain stimulator a neurosurgeon must insert a thin electrode into the brain through an opening in the skull. The stimulator  is connected by a wire that runs to a battery pack underneath the skin. The effect of the implant is to reduce or even eliminate the tremors and rigid movement that are such prominent symptoms of Parkinson’s. According to Dr. Richard Shubin, a neurologist and  director of the Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Clinic at the Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona,  “the question of where or not deep brain stimulators can treat the progression of Parkinson’s is one of the most contentious questions in ongoing and cutting edge research.” However, what greatly excites Dr. Shubin is promising research in using deep brain stimulation to treat other disorders such as depression such as epilepsy; even the military is curious.

Dr. Shubin also pointed out that what seemed like science fiction only a few years ago is now becoming a legitimate research interest of the United States military who hopes to  use techniques to from existing research in deep brain stimulators to creative implants what would translate thought into digital information. The military is interested developing the technology for a number of reasons not least of which is the desire to develop a device to be used with their pilots in order to cut down on the response  times, giving our pilots the ultimate edge.

“Recently the department of defense indicated their interest in initiating the development of a device to translate thought, tentatively the device would be implanted for 4 years with the ultimate goal of creative a more effective pilot or soldiers.” When asked how feasible such a project would be Dr Shubin commented “it is becoming feasible a number of small studies have been performed implanting similar devices in patients who are paralyzed which has resulted in patients successfully being able to control artificial limbs” The hopes of the past are technologies of today. Welcome to a brave new world.