Stimulation of the brain with electrical impulses improves human mental function

They found that brain stimulation with electrical impulses improves human mental function, especially to treat mental disorders.

A pioneering study showed that this method could be a new approach to treating a variety of serious mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.

Can we improve human brain functions with electrical brain stimulation? The answer is yes. This is what a study shows in humans by a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States, and published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Key to Depression Treatment

The main author of the research, Alik Widge, MD, PhD , indicated that the results come from a human study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston among 12 patients undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy. During the procedure, hundreds of small electrodes were placed throughout the brain to record their activity and identify the source of the seizures.

In the study, they identified a region of the brain, the inner capsule, that improved patients’ mental function when stimulated with small electrical impulses. This part of the brain is responsible for cognitive control – the process of changing from one thought or behavior pattern to another, which is affected in most mental illnesses.

“An example might include a person with depression who just can’t get out of negative ‘stuck’ thinking. Because it’s so critical for mental illness, finding a way to improve it can be a powerful new way to treat mental illness,” explained Widge.

The team developed algorithms so that, after stimulation, they could track the patients’ cognitive control abilities, both from their actions and directly from their brain activity. The system increased electrical stimulation when patients worsened on a laboratory test of cognitive control.

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This system reads ‘decoded’ brain activity when a patient has difficulties and delivers a small shock of electrical stimulation to the brain to overcome them. It’s like riding an electric bike. When someone pedals but has problems, the bicycle detects and increases their resistance. The same is true of the mental function of the human being, Widge clarified.

pioneer study

This analysis is pioneering in revealing that a specific human mental function linked to mental illness can be improved using precise electrical stimulation. There are other parts of the brain’s inner capsule structure that are very effective for cognitive enhancement. Furthermore, the algorithm used as controller was twice as effective as random time stimulation.

Some of the patients who collaborated in the study had very significant anxiety, in addition to epilepsy. When they received the cognitive enhancement stimulus, they said their anxiety improved because they were able to push the negativity out of their thoughts and focus on what they wanted. Widge confirmed that this approach could be used to treat patients with severe drug-resistant anxiety, depression, or other disorders.

The goal of improving cognitive control has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for deep brain stimulation (DBS), so the team is ready for clinical trials.

This search can be done with existing tools. “Once the test is formally approved, bringing this system into current medical practice can be quick,” concluded Widge.

REFERENCES

Researchers Increase Human Mental Function With Brain Stimulation

Closed loop enhancement and neural decoding of cognitive control in humans

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