Scientists at Wake Forest University, the University of Kentucky at Lexington and the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, developed a neural implant that helped rhesus monkeys matching skills. While it is a long road between animal experimentation and humans, this could point the way to a method of helping people with various forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s.
The Verge reported on the study published in IOP Science’s Journal of Neural Engineering. Five rhesus monkeys were used in the study. They were taught to perform a delayed match meaning that the monkeys were shown a picture and after a delay, told to find the match of that picture when mixed in with other pictures.
The test was run several different ways. The first was without the neural stimulator, then again with the neural stimulator. While on drugs without the neural stimulator and then again while on drugs with the neural stimulator. Both tests using the neural stimulator showed a significant increase in correct matches even while drugged.
Scientists studied the electrical patterns in the monkeys’ prefrontal cortexes when they selected correct images, and programmed a brain implant to mimic those signals. The researchers found that the MIMO neuroprosthetic noticeably improved the monkeys’ performance on the matching test.
Science Fiction fans will be reminded of stories where characters receive neural implants that give them sudden knowledge of languages or alien cultures. Implants are just a function of everyday life and employment. While we are a long way from such instant intelligence implants, this feels like the beginning of that Sci Fi thread.
Anyone who has ever read Daniel Keye’s Flowers for Algernon, remembers the excitement that was generated when it seemed that science had developed a promising procedure to enhance brain function only to have it end sadly. The study on these monkey’s shows that there is a promising procedure that may help not just people with dementia but might also enhance normal brain function as well.
The testing is still ongoing and while promising, it may still hold hidden dangers like those encountered by Algernon and Charly. Still, our grandchildren or great grandchildren may someday be fitted with neural implants from birth to enhance learning and intelligence.
Below is the above graphic from IOP Science.