The human brain is gradually becoming known territory to us. We can not only locate but also influence our most complex organ, with pills and sometimes with brain implants. Even the higher functions of the brain now seem susceptible to our devices. Researchers in the United States succeeded in improving the cognitive skills of rhesus monkeys, using a brain implant.
In a study of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, five rhesus monkeys were put on a primate chair in front of a screen that showed images. They first saw one image and then, a few seconds later, the same image among others. If the monkeys recognized the first image, by pointing it out with the cursor, the computer gave them some juice.
While the monkeys were doing their best at extracting as much juice from the machine as possible, researchers were looking inside their brain. Previous to the research they had equipped the monkeys with a brain implant that they surgically installed in the prefrontal cortex. This implant mapped the brain activity needed to fulfil the task.
But mapping was not the only thing the implant could do. It was also designed to stimulate the task-related brain activity. By switching on this function the researchers managed to improve the monkeys performance on the task.
To investigate the possibilities a little further, the researchers then gave the monkeys some cocaine, which impaired their skills on the task. And here again the brain implant proved its usefulness: it helped the monkeys to restore their performance.
These results offer perspective to people as well, the researchers say. Human diseases that disrupt cognitive control, like cocaine did with the monkeys, could become something manageable.
Hampson, RE, Gerhardt, GA, Marmarelis, V, Song, D, Opris, I, Santos, L, Berger, TW, & Deadwyler, SA (2012). Facilitation and restoration of cognitive function in primate prefrontal cortex by a neuroprosthesis that utilizes minicolumn-specific neural firing. Journal of Neural Engineering DOI: 10.1088/1741-2560/9/5/056012
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