Currently, Doctors electrically stimulate various areas of the brain to treat conditions such as epilepsy, stroke, and depression. The treatment sends electrical impulses to control the activity of the brain and central nervous system.
Doctors sometimes also use this technique to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition that affects physical balance and the ability to move and coordinate the movement of the limbs.
The major problem with the brain stimulators used today is that they only stimulate targeted brain centers but can not record or identify the consequences of this stimulation in real time. Consequently, doctors have no clue as to where and how specific brain areas are positively and/or negatively affected.
A New Brain Implant: How It Works
Researchers at The University of California, Berkeley, developed a brain stimulator that monitors electrical activity in the brain as well as identifying abnormal signals that indicate the presence of seizures or tremors.
This stimulator is called “WAND”, which stands for ‘wireless artifact-free neuromodualtion’. WAND has two tiny external controllers, each of which monitors 64 electrodes that sit in the brain. WAND can track activity from 128 different channels.
Unlike other neurostimulators, WAND’s custom design can record the subtle electrical signals that the brain emits and also send out stronger impulses to “correct” faulty signals.
In their recent experiments, the researchers taught monkeys with WAND implants to use a joystick to send onscreen cursors to designated locations.
WAND learned to detect the neural signals that corresponded to the monkeys hand motions. Once WAND identified these pattern it was able to send out electrical signals that delayed the hand movements.
The researchers indicate this is the first time a brain stimulator has been able to both stimulate and then make corrections to the brain stimulation.
“Thanks to WAND, because we can actually stimulate and record in the same brain region, we know exactly what is happening when we are providing a therapy”, they say.
Future plans are to incorporate the WAND platform to build devices that can calculate and provide the best, most direct treatment without needing a doctor’s constant intervention.