Antidepressant brain chips. Future can be closer than you think
With every year we are getting closer to the future of super humans. Of course, the road is really long, but first steps are already being made. How? Basically scientists implant chips (electrodes) as big as a sesame seed under your skull, and then wait for micro electric irruptions. With time they have the entire picture of your brain activity.
Scientist from the University of California, San Francisco began using those electrodes on a 44 y.o. woman’s brain. With her permission of course. Later they decided to go further than just listen. They zapped her noodle in different areas with tiny electrical earthquakes. In such way Victor Frankenstein’s prototipes started locating the different active parts of the brain. Most of the electrical pulses went completely unnoticed by the patient.
Researchers finally got the effect they were hunting for by targeting the brain area just behind the poor woman’s eyes. When asked how she felt, the woman answered: “Calmer in my nerves.”.
Zapping the same spot in other participants meloes brought similar responses: “I feel positive, relaxed,” said a 53-year-old woman. A 60-year-old man described “starting to feel a little more alive, a little more energy.”. No wonder, Pavlov dogs also felt really energetic after being buzzed.
While stimulating that one part of the brain, “participants would sit up a little straighter and seem a little bit more alert,” says UCSF neuroscientist Kristin Sellers.
Sounds like an electrical xamax. But it’s actually HUGE for neuroscience. You have a device implanted into the brains of severely depressed people to detect a looming crisis coming on and zap the brain out of it. The project is fundamental, pioneering for further discovery in neuroscience.
Yet, the idea of “zapping” the brain isn’t that new…But having the technology of 21th century humankind can literally map the brain. Still, in the last several years, teams of scientists have made massive amounts of progress, both in their ability to spot the neural signatures that come with a low mood and to change a person’s feelings.
With powerful computational methods, scientists have recently zeroed in on some key features of depressed brains. Those hallmarks include certain types of brain waves in specific locations, like the one just behind and slightly above the eyes. Other researchers are focused on how to correct the faulty brain activity that underlies depression.
It was not that long ago when the whole field was drowning in Zigmund Froid’s paradigmas. He blamed the disorder on bad parenting and repressed anger. Soon after came the chemical imbalance concept, which held that the brain just needs a dash of the right chemical signal to “fix itself”. It was the ‘brain is soup’ model.
Thankfully this paradigma has changed with the years, with advances in brain imaging, scientists see depression as a disorder of neural circuits- altered connections between important brain regions can tip a person into a depressed state. Maybe the “depression rode” was found.
As it was said for many centuries almost everything is based on our emotions. But as we are one of the most snobic species, who ever lived, we needed MRI (the huge round thing where you have to lay down and it turns all around you ) to show this. Emotions span most of our brain. MRI scans were made, while people were feeling different emotions. Scientists found a wide neural reach of sorrow, for instance, by prompting the emotion with gloomy songs and films.
Functional MRI allows scientists to see the entire scope of a working brain, but that wide view comes with the trade-off of lower resolution. And resolution is what’s needed to precisely and quickly sense — and change — brain activity. Implanting electrodes, like those used in the UCSF project, gives a more nuanced look into select brain areas. Those detailed recordings, taken from people undergoing epilepsy treatment, are what allowed neural engineer Maryam Shanechi to decode the brain’s emotions with precision.
Seven patients were with such electrodes stayed in hospital for the experiment time and scientists had a really hard task. They had a shitload of data from the brains of these people. So the Shanechi team developed an algorithm to distill all that data into a few key predictive brain regions for each person. The resulting decoder could tell what mood a person was in, based on brain activity alone. “In every single individual, we can show how their mood changes in real time,” Shanechi says.
It’s possible that the brains of people with epilepsy might handle emotions differently, but researchers still think that the results will hold more generally. In the seven people tested, each brain had its own hot spots that predicted mood. But there were commonalities, too. In four patients, one of the most predictive spots was the orbitofrontal cortex — that spot just behind the eyes that the UCSF scientists stimulated to boost mood.
Doctors and scientists have been using electricity to zap brains out of depression for decades. Electroconvulsive therapy, first used in the 1930s, had become a common depression treatment by the 1950s. The modern form of the therapy, which somehow resets the brain by sparking seizures, is still one of the most effective treatments for people whose severe depression hasn’t responded to other interventions.
Shanechi’s group is also trying to learn how best to stimulate the brain. Using computational models, she and colleagues recently predicted how certain kinds of stimulation would change depression-related brain activity in controlled ways, keeping the relevant circuit behavior tightly within a healthy range. Shanechi has been testing those mathematical predictions, published in the December Journal of Neural Engineering, in people with implanted electrodes. She is delivering the sorts of electrical stimulation that her models pointed to and monitoring the effects.
Clues about how best to stimulate also emerged from the study in Current Biology, which described the 44-year-old woman’s calm mood during stimulation. Single and continuous electrical stimulation in the orbitofrontal cortex had different effects in neural tissue both near and far, the researchers found. This sort of neural tinkering — delivering certain kinds and doses of electrical current and seeing how the signals reverberate — is a crucial part of devising closed-loop systems.
Of course, that device doesn’t exist yet. Scientists still aren’t certain where to stimulate and how — questions that probably have different answers for everyone, the data suggest. And even if the protocols were clear, the hardware that does the work still isn’t ready. In the recent mood-altering studies, wires emerging from under people’s skulls were attached to large external computers, not ideal for moving around.
In other words we are still quite far from a skynet future. And it’s really a wonderful idea to try and figure your shit on your own. But there is always hope for humanity to fund the easy way.