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Electrode being inserted into the brain

The hypothalamus; the target site for the procedure
A "pacemaker" for the human brain might be on the horizon

A 50 year old man, dangerously obese, goes to the hospital for experimental brain surgery to suppress his appetite.  A small piece of his skull is removed, and an electrical probe inserted deep into his brain tissue. It reaches his hypothalamus and current is switched on. Suddenly the patient -- awake through the procedure -- begins to speak uncontrollably about events in his past, events he had long forgotten. He remembers a day's walk in the park 30 years ago, complete with what people were wearing, all in vivid color.  He sees them speaking to him, every motion they made. The intensity and level of detail of the memories is frightening.

The scene may read like the script of a bad science fiction flick but it comes from an unidentified patient at Ontario's Toronto Western Hospital.  No one was more astonished than the man's doctors, who began to experiment further on him.  Over the next few weeks, they continued testing. His ability to both learn and remember was substantially increased when the electrodes were turned on. Continuous stimulation also had a residual effect -- after the electrodes were off, there was still a slight benefit.

Professor Andreas Lozano, of the Neurosurgery Department of Toronto Western, led the research. He says the electrodes function like "turning up the volume" on the brain's memory circuits. "As we turned the current up, we first drove his memory circuits and improved his learning. As we increased the intensity, we got spontaneous memories of discrete events. At a certain intensity, he would slash to the [park scene]. When the intensity was increased further, he got more detail but, when the current was turned off, it rapidly decayed."

Lozano's previous research included stimulating certain portions of the brain to curb appetite. His research in that field earned him more than a few headlines in 2006.

The results were so successful the same technique is now being trialed on six Alzheimer's patients. Functioning like a "pacemaker for the brain," the treatment offers hope for the millions worldwide who suffer from the debilitating memory and cognitive losses caused by Alzheimer's. 

The electrodes are connected by a cable that runs under the patient's skin, down the back of the neck to a battery pack implanted in the patient's chest. A constant low-level current stimulates the brain tissue, but is otherwise imperceptible to the patient.

The devices are the same as those already being used successfully as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, severe depression, and even chronic pain; all that varies is the exact segment of the brain where implantation occurs. In Parkinson's, for instance, the subthalamic nucleus is stimulated. Depression targets a small area of the cingulate cortex.

"This gives us new insight into which brain structures are involved in memory", says Professor Lozano.

More news of Lozano's research is expected to be announced later today to Canadian media.

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By Master Kenobi on 1/30/2008 10:34:04 AM , Rating: 3
In time, given the number of advancements that can be made by installing machinery and electronics into Humans to make them better, I see us becoming the Borg. Everyone will become a Cyborg. Cyborgs offer longer life and fewer problems than a regular human. As it was said "We evolved to include the synthetic as well as the organic to achieve perfection". Plug me in!

RE: Borg
By masher2 on 1/30/2008 10:40:15 AM , Rating: 5
Actually, I think longterm the reverse will occur. Metal hardware is a stopgap approach until we have the technology to build organic components, basically indistinguishable from the human body itself.

Why implant sensors for an eye, for instance, when we have the ability to build a better eyeball itself? Especially when the organic model can grow itself and do much of its own self-repair.

RE: Borg
By DASQ on 1/30/2008 10:46:17 AM , Rating: 2
Sign me up for cyberbrain implantation.

RE: Borg
By Master Kenobi on 1/30/2008 11:10:34 AM , Rating: 2
True enough. We will grow superior body parts to replace existing ones... Manmade evolution at it's finest. Perhaps simply modify the genetics in babies so they are born with many enhancements.

RE: Borg
By NicePants42 on 1/30/2008 1:55:52 PM , Rating: 1
There is no gene for the human spirit.

RE: Borg
By JasonMick on 1/30/2008 2:29:52 PM , Rating: 5
Sure there is, its right on Chromosome 14 Locus 45 next to diabetes and eye color ;)

RE: Borg
By eye smite on 1/30/08, Rating: 0
RE: Borg
By NullSubroutine on 1/30/2008 11:45:51 PM , Rating: 4
It is a movie based on a myth, not fact.

RE: Borg
By NicePants42 on 1/31/2008 10:33:21 AM , Rating: 2
It's nice to see that someone here can recognize a movie reference. -_-

RE: Borg
By dluther on 2/2/2008 11:06:21 PM , Rating: 2
the human body losing exactly 21 grams at the time of death

Actually, it's not exactly -- it's the average of the weight of fecal matter expelled when the sphincter and other bowel muscles completely relax after expiration.

Just another little tidbit of knowledge God forgot to mention to Adam.

RE: Borg
By Schadenfroh on 1/30/2008 6:06:51 PM , Rating: 3
Cybermen will remove fear. Cybermen will remove sex, and class, and colour, and creed.

Cybermen will remove the concept of spirit.

Cybermen will give you the reflexes of a counter-strike bot.

RE: Borg
By bdewong on 1/31/2008 12:31:48 PM , Rating: 2
After reading this, I can't stop imagining people running around, trying to go up a ladder but just glitching out at the bottom and making so no one can get up.

RE: Borg
By Polynikes on 2/6/2008 1:42:52 PM , Rating: 2
They'll also be running around tossing grenades at their friends' feet.

RE: Borg
By Zoomer on 1/31/2008 11:05:13 PM , Rating: 2
>>Cybermen will remove sex

Are you serious????

RE: Borg
By HrilL on 2/1/2008 2:24:46 AM , Rating: 2
Well maybe for reproduction, but we'll always do it for fun.

RE: Borg
By tastyratz on 2/1/2008 11:15:52 PM , Rating: 2
The only thing removing sex is the obsession with star trek with half the posts on this article. This is a great advance in technology. Now that we have covered it for the love of god get laid people

RE: Borg
By SilthDraeth on 2/1/2008 2:41:01 PM , Rating: 2
Is that a Dr. Who reference?

RE: Borg
By fictisiousname on 1/31/2008 9:07:50 AM , Rating: 2
As someone who has lost part of the Mk 1 Mod 0 human body and has to deal with what is currently "the best we have"...shall we say I have a unique perspective of just how far away this dream is today?

Someday, perhaps, Science will be able to grow the necessary cells. Even more of a challenge is getting those cells to communicate with the required nerves and be recognized by the body as part of the "Collective". Probably not in our lifetime, but march on nevertheless.

RE: Borg
By PandaBear on 1/31/08, Rating: -1
RE: Borg
By dluther on 2/2/2008 11:07:52 PM , Rating: 1
All natural boob job for all.

Instant boob job: just add milk.

RE: Borg
By SlyNine on 2/10/2008 12:28:11 AM , Rating: 2
So we went from turning in to the Borg to turning in to the Asgard.

RE: Borg
By MaulBall789 on 1/30/2008 10:40:16 AM , Rating: 2
Or just take out the organic altogether and become Cybermen. "Delete! Delete!"

On a more serious note, newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients everywhere have got to be excited about the possibilities of this research. I'm only 35 and it took me 15 minutes this morning to find my keys that were, naturally, in my pocket. I may need this sooner than I would like to think.

RE: Borg
By jbartabas on 1/30/2008 12:02:58 PM , Rating: 4
I guess that forgetting about some things is a natural function that permit us to focus on what's important (hopefully, although 'important' is a rather subjective notion that everyone tunes to his own interests ;-) ).

If my brain is to become a huge mess of insignificant memories that requires me hours of 'processing' before finding a relevant information, I guess I'd prefer to pay the price of forgetting where I've put my keys ... :-P

Nonetheless, it sounds really like a fantastic news all the people who have serious brain dysfunctions. :-D

RE: Borg
By winterspan on 1/30/2008 4:34:44 PM , Rating: 3
That always is the explanation when they study savants with incredible memory capacities. They say the normal "processing filter" for extracting only the "important" information is dysfunctional and/or missing in these individuals. That makes it appear that you have had to be in such a state DURING the memory formation to have similar abilities. What is truly amazing about the phenomenon in this article is that the patient had extraordinarily vivid recall of past events which occurred prior to the implantation of the deep brain stimulation (DBS) unit.
That bodes well for those of us already born that hope for some type of enhancement in the future. You may not need to go back and re-read/re-learn everything that you wish to have an incredible recall of.
Less narcissistic, the potential to help Alzheimers patients with their memory and cognitive abilities will be wonderful. I currently have a grandparent suffering terribly from that miserable disease...

RE: Borg
By nayy on 1/31/2008 5:51:39 PM , Rating: 2
Surely so much memory would be difficult to handle, but the beauty of this is that you can turn it on and off at anytime!!
Need to remember something? press your memory boost button, once you recall what you needed just release the button.
It's a dream come true, if it proves to be safe in the long term.

RE: Borg
By murphyslabrat on 2/1/2008 3:43:33 PM , Rating: 3
The downside is that you might forget to switch it back on.

RE: Borg
By mcturkey on 2/6/2008 9:19:59 PM , Rating: 2
It's the "safe in the long term" part that is probably going to prevent this from being much more than an Alzheimer's treatment I suspect. I'd be highly surprised if regularly delivering a current to part of the brain would really be safe, but I guess we're going to find out. I think what is really amazing is that our brains actually retain EVERYTHING and so the stuff we "remember" is merely what we have trained our brains to pull up immediately. In the event that this pans out, can you imagine the potential for future learning? The entire K12 curriculum could be taught in a year or two.

RE: Borg
By Spivonious on 1/30/2008 1:31:44 PM , Rating: 2
But this time make it so the Daleks can be beaten.

RE: Borg
By MaulBall789 on 1/30/2008 1:53:56 PM , Rating: 2
The Daleks will never be beaten.

RE: Borg
By KristopherKubicki on 1/31/2008 2:33:45 PM , Rating: 2
Apparently the new producers pulled some asshattery in the new season and killed the rest of the Daleks.

RE: Borg
By MaulBall789 on 1/31/2008 6:03:33 PM , Rating: 2
There's always one lurking around somewhere, whether being missed, malfunctioning or altered. A storyline has probably already been written that brings them back more powerful than ever due to an unforeseen glitch in the previous plan. Might even be a two parter!

RE: Borg
By Grast on 1/30/2008 11:55:32 AM , Rating: 4
Borg only for the non-genetically enhanced. I see the future being devided into two groups.

1. Normal run of the mill people with cybernetics or organic modification.
2. Genetically modified humans with all the abilities of the cyborgs with the need for batteries.

Cybernetics is simply a way for normal humans to repair, replace, or enhance attributes which did not measure up. The real future is genetics.

Khan here we come!!! But now wars because regardless of how fast and smart you are. It is hard to fight RoboCop. hehhe

RE: Borg
By diablofish on 1/30/2008 1:16:10 PM , Rating: 3
Shades of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World".

RE: Borg
By dluther on 2/2/2008 11:09:50 PM , Rating: 2
Cybernetics is simply a way for normal humans to repair, replace, or enhance attributes which did not measure up. The real future is genetics.

The *real* future is a combination of both.

And we'll all probably be around to see it in action.

RE: Borg
By othercents on 1/30/2008 12:25:51 PM , Rating: 2
What about just implanting information into the brain? Uploading information like in Matrix right to the memory section of the brain. If you can stimulate memories and learning you should be able to implant information too.

Now the frightening part is that the information could be government controlled and instead of getting just your college courses you get the mind control information that makes you a better citizen. I see tests going on in jails and maybe even optional sentencing where you can go to jail for the rest of your life, or have your personality changed for the better of society.


RE: Borg
By BrownJohn on 1/30/2008 1:27:00 PM , Rating: 2
What you're proposing has been protrayed in A Clockwork Orange.

RE: Borg
By Spivonious on 1/30/2008 1:33:54 PM , Rating: 3
Awesome book, so-so movie.

RE: Borg
By mitchebk on 1/30/2008 6:01:29 PM , Rating: 2
By implanting a college degree into the people allows everyone to get a degree and potentially be a successfully productive member of society. This could reduce crime since everyone will be a "have". However, knowing humanity, we'll just abuse it.

I for one would download the "Bruce Lee" program immediately.

RE: Borg
By NullSubroutine on 1/30/2008 11:51:44 PM , Rating: 2
Being a 'have-not' is not simply about education. It is a fact there are not enough jobs for every citizen in the country under current society formation (capitalism).

RE: Borg
By jtesoro on 2/1/2008 9:00:26 AM , Rating: 2
I know Kung Fu.

RE: Borg
By AlexandertheBlue on 2/9/2008 9:22:03 PM , Rating: 2
Show me

RE: Borg
By TomCorelis on 2/2/2008 1:50:50 PM , Rating: 2
No, implanting everyone with college degrees would render college degrees worthless. Our society is structured on our current caste system, whether we choose to admit it or not. If you interrupt that by stripping out the underbelly of it (people with only high school or less education, in this case) then you will cheapen the value of all those who've achieved above that.

If society doesn't flat-out collapse,then we'll just have people finding other ways (that can't be "hacked") to stratisfy themselves above others.

Sad but true.

RE: Borg
By Screwballl on 1/30/2008 1:52:43 PM , Rating: 3
I have a bad back, give me a cyber-spine.... reverse the effects from that nasty car crash in 2004 that has left me with a fraction of my strength, enough that I can barely pickup my 5 year old...

RE: Borg
By Lastfreethinker on 1/31/2008 7:41:02 PM , Rating: 2
Machine muscles breakdown from use while human muscles only get stronger.

"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini

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