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Researchers come up with technique to help restore memory loss in Alzheimer’s sufferers

Atheer – Oman News Agency

US researchers believe that Alzheimer’s sufferers may be able to access forgotten memories, following a groundbreaking pilot study.

The researchers recorded memories as they were being formed and then later played them back into the brains of ten patients. They found that it increased memory performance by up to 37 percent.

The study, funded by the US Department of Defense’s military research department, (Darpa), focused on improving episodic memory, which is the most common type of memory loss in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and head injury.

Episodic memory is information that is new and useful for a short period of time, such as where you parked your car or left your keys.

“This is the first time that scientists have been able to identify a patient’s own brain cell code or pattern for memory and in essence, write in that code to make existing memory work better – an important first step in potentially restoring memory loss,” said Dr Robert Hampson, professor of physiology, pharmacology and neurology at Wake Forest Baptist.

“In the future, we hope to be able to help people hold onto specific memories, such as where they live or what their grandkids look like, when their overall memory begins to fail.”

“We envision this system being made into an implant to provide continuous support to a person’s ability to encode and store new memories.

“A patient would visit with a clinician periodically to ensure the system is working properly, but the closed-loop system is being designed to continuously read, analyse and support the patient’s innate memory function.”

For the study, researchers enrolled ten epilepsy patients who were already participating in an separate experiment mapping their brains, which meant that they already had electrodes implanted in their heads.

The participants were asked to study a simple image, such as a coloured block, while their brain activity was recorded. Scientists then blanked the screen and asked them to choose the correct image from five options.

They found that when they asked people to remember, while playing back the recorded memory into the hippocampus region of their brains, their performance improved by 37 percent. The hippocampus is responsible for forming memories, and spatial recognition and is one of the first areas to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.

In a second test, participants were shown a highly distinctive photographic image, followed by a short delay, and asked to identify the photo out of four or five others on the screen 75 minutes later. They found that playing back the recorded memories boosted recall by 35 percent.

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