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Implants May Improve Therapy For Neurological Disorders 36

ericjones12398 writes "Breakthrough new research out of Massachusetts General Hospital shows that the use of magnetic field stimulation from microscopic devices implanted into the brain may be able to boost brain activity and alleviate symptoms of several devastating neurodegenerative conditions. Researchers leveraged the use of magnetic stimulation, which has been used for years to diagnose and treat neurological disorders. However, transcranial magnetic stimulation often generates fields by hand-held coils outside the skull, which ends up activating undesired parts of the brain, and makes delivery specificity to certain parts of the brain difficult."
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Implants May Improve Therapy For Neurological Disorders

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  • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @12:33AM (#40560365) Journal

    A clarification: I am not a doctor

    But isn't "Neuro-Degenerative Disorder" imply symptoms that arise from the death of brain cells (for whatever reason) ?

    If that's so, how can any implant "stimulates" brain activities _after_ the crucial brain cells have croaked ?

    Would appreciate very much of any and all elaboration !!

    • Brain cells don't necessarily die outright, they may just become less responsive, or even go completely dormant while still being alive. If that's the problem then if you can keep them stimulated enough to respond semi-normally to normal input signals then you may restore much lost function. Depending on the underlying cause it's even possible that by keeping them active you might slow or even reverse the degeneration, much like a physical exercise regime can help slow or reverse muscle degenerating condi

    • by Frans Faase ( 648933 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @02:16AM (#40560763) Homepage
      With neuro-degenrative disorders (dementia) it is not the case that all brain cells die at once. Even with people who have progressed far, still have brain with living brain cells. The brain cells that are left can form new connections. Maybe the magnetic stimulation can improve the communication between the brain cells that are left. In the past decades several medicines have developed that stimulate the production of certain neurotransmitters with the same effect. However, most of these medicines only work with a few people and the effect is mostly not very dramatic. The problem is that all these things do not cure or even halt the neuro-degenerative process. It might be a breakthrough in the research but it is definitely not a breakthrough in the cure of such disorders. But any method that can elevate the simptoms is nevertheless important because for the suffers of these diseases and their caretakers.
    • The summary is misleading. From the linked article:

      Approved applications for DBS include Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, depression, Tourette’s syndrome and even deep comatose patients.

      Of those conditions, Parkinson's is the only one that is degenerative. None of the others are.

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @12:50AM (#40560437)

    Tell me about it. A friend of mine tried TCMS once and kept ranting about "monsters from the id!"

    Then again, he was probably just traumatized by the gas explosion or whatever it was that flattened a neighboring city block.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @01:36AM (#40560627)
    boost brain activity? Of the girls that I know with implants, it seems to have done the opposite.
  • and predict that in another decade those of us who don't get the implants will be looking at those poor souls who got em with the feeling we get today when looking at the orbitoclast. No, doctor, if I go insane, please don't put your wires in my brain.
  • by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:20AM (#40563579) Journal
    If you are interested in a decent (IMO) book about this, give "Amped: A Novel" [] a read. It is written by Daniel H. Wilson, author of "Robopocalypse: A Novel" []. "Amped: A Novel" revolves around people who have implants in their brains to cure neurological disorders, at least originally. Amplified intelligence occurs as a side effect, creating a schism between "amps" and "reggies", or regular people. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt ensues.
  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:54AM (#40564089) Homepage Journal

    Magnetic fields can stimulate nerves in the brain, using straightforward mechanisms of action.

    Hebbian Theory [] tells us that neuronal activity induces nerve growth. Nerves which fire at the same time tend to make connections.

    If Hebbian theory is correct, then the likely mechanism of action is excess neurotransmitters in the inter-cellular fluid - a slight loss of neurotransmitter in synapses from firing makes its way into the fluid between cells, which acts as a growth stimulator for nearby cells.

    (It's easy to imagine an evolutionary path for this - in effect, the cells are recognizing the neurotransmitter as a food source and will grow towards areas of higher density. Modify the food source over time to get a specialized cell that processes specific molecules as a growth signalling mechanism. Anyway...)

    Simple experiments indicate that this neural plasticity is quite fast and pliable. Wear glasses which flip the visual image upside down and the brain will rewire itself to compensate in a couple of days. In other words, the brain will completely rewire the ordering of the input visual layer in about three days.

    So it's not at all unreasonable to expect that magnetic stimulation would cause increased neuronal activity, or that such activity would enhance neuronal growth. Whether this induces the growth of new neurons or merely an increase of connections is an area for further research. Whether this works on all types of neurons (there are several types, each with a different function and using a different neurotransmitter) is an area for further research.

    Furthermore, this is an area of research which could conceivably be carried out at the hobbyist level.

    Yes, that's a bold statement and I can back that up. Medical science has largely stagnated for various reasons, and it would appear that good science will increasingly come from the Hobbyist arena [] rather than peer-reviewed, government-funded studies which cannot be reproduced [].

    Magnetic field stimulation is easily within the capability of an average hacker, is relatively safe, and if you have someone who otherwise cannot be helped by conventional medicine and is aware of the dangers, there's nothing wrong with it.

    Previous poster stated that getting an MRI reduced Alzheimers symptoms for half a day. What's the risk/reward equation for someone diagnosed with Alzheimers trying some magnetic stimulation, versus doing nothing?


    Magnetic fields causing increased neuronal growth is entirely consistent with current theory of how the brain works.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.