A study published in Nature demonstrated that implanted electrodes could provide a potential therapy for chronic brain injuries.
Led by Dr. Nicholas Schiff, the study looked at five people with moderate to severe brain injuries. They received electrode implants in the brain and, with stimulation from the electrodes, saw improvements in cognitive performance.Researchers told The New York Times that, should the positive results continue, the implants could become the first effective therapy for chronic brain injuries.
According to The New York Times, the researchers targeted the central lateral nucleus of the brain to achieve these results. They found that stimulating this area of the brain could help patients regain focus and attention. The researchers gave volunteers tests to judge their ability to focus and switch tasks, according to the report.
Before surgery, the volunteers each received a scan of their brain, establishing a map to guide the electrode to the central lateral nucleus. Dr. Jaimie Henderson of Stanford University conducted the implants. The study originally had six volunteers but one withdrew with a scalp infection.
Starting one month post-procedure, the five volunteers took follow-up tests. Their scores improved from between 15% and 52% compared to pre-procedure, according to The New York Times. Dr. Joseph Fins, a medical ethicist at Weill Cornell Medicine, interviewed the volunteers and family members, too. Most reportedly said the implant “made them more like their former selves.”
One volunteer — the one with the largest cognitive improvement based on the tests — said he didn’t think the procedure hurt, however, he didn’t know “if it helped much.” However, that subject’s son observed significant changes in his father, according to the report.
The team has plans for a larger study of the brain implants and could look to target other areas of the brain as well.