Brain probes could help alzheimer patients

September 15, 2008

One of the most lucrative markets these days is for anything that help people lose weight, and much of that research is in the field of appetite suppression – and there is a large pot of gold for anyone who finds one with no side effects. However, a startling by product of such research being done at Toronto Western Hospital in Ontario, Canada, has accidentally discovered a way to trigger vivid memories.

The hero of the piece is an obese man who had volunteered to help scientists as they attempt to find a part of the brain that could suppress the appetite when stimulated electrically.

When the scientists stimulated the hypothalamus, which has been associated with hunger, the man suddenly experienced a vivid memory from 30 years before. It was complete in all details, the people, the place, the colours exactly as if he were back there. While the hypothalamus has not previously been associated with memory, it borders a part of the brain that is known to influence memory and emotion so it seemed like a logical area to explore.

The researchers then implanted a device in his brain that would constantly stimulate that section of the hypothalamus. The device is similar to ones that have been implanted in other parts of the brain to control tremor in Parkinson’s disease.

After three weeks of stimulation at a low level, the man’s performance on two memory tests improved significantly and this leads researchers to hope that they can develop the technique into a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. They are now testing the device to see if it can stem the memory loss that can be such a distressing part of Alzheimer’s disease.


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