Earlier this month, at the annual conference of the neurobiological society, two groups of scientists have demonstrated a new technology that could give us eternal bliss. What if the secret to eternal happiness lies in a brain implant? Just imagine: a tiny set of electrodes sits quietly in different parts of the brain, recording electrical activity of this organ in real time. Personal data is transmitted to the algorithm — the “card sentiments” — which can assess the General mood of the person based on one only brain waves.
When the system detects patterns indicating the start of the episode of depression, it sends electrical signals to the mood center of the brain. Under the watchful eye of the algorithm, the system continues the stimulation as long as the faulty circuit will not be returned to its “happy” state.
The algorithm is completely independent. Every signal, every setting is hiding under the cap. The system does not need the guidance of a doctor, and the man does not know about the signals — only feel relief sadness.
Funded by DARPA, scientists hope that these futuristic implants “closed loop” will one day help veterans with PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder or people with severe depression that does not respond to medical treatment.
“The brain is very different from all other organs because of its networking and adaptability,” says Justin Sanchez, program Manager in DARPA. “The closed neural interfaces in real time allow us to move away from the traditional static view of the brain and go to the exact treatment.”
Although this system was primarily designed to assist people with mental illness, its potential impact can go far beyond this.
Obviously, surgery on the brain — a high price for the “induced happiness”, especially for the average person. Nevertheless, it is possible that system components may eventually be replaced by non-invasive methods of measuring and stimulating of brain activity.
What will happen then? Will you be able to trust others direct, permanent, chronic access to your inner feelings? There you have the temptation to drown all emotions in happiness?
Of course, all this is possible only under the condition that the system is working.
The system is based on the old technology of deep brain stimulation (DBS).
First approved for treatment of locomotor symptoms during Parkinson’s disease, DBS relies on electrodes implanted directly into the brain to deliver electrical impulses. These pulses interact with the local neurons and alter their activity.
Like throwing a pebble in a pond with still water, the changes in this major group of neurons pulsing in the nerve circuits. Although neuroscientists do not quite understand the specific mechanisms of fuel, seems to alleviate many neurological disorders. At least it showed some broken tests.
During one of the first demonstrations of the power of fuels and lubricants, scientists have switched on and off system stimulation by asking the patient with depression about his condition. Incredibly, the patient only reported “high spirits” when the system worked — even realizing that scientists activated the electrical impulses.
This and other early success stories have led to recent large-scale clinical trial involving 90 people with depression. The bad news: on average, the study found no improvements after a year of treatment.
But Dr. Edward Chang, a neuroscientist at the University of California in San Francisco, who directs one of the projects, believes that this is only the beginning.
Most systems GSM treat depression the same way, despite the fact that different people live it. These systems immerse the brain in a constant electrical impulses. The stimulation Protocol is specified by the physician, rather than the actual state of the brain of the patient. According to Chang, it is important to create implants specifically designed for individual treatment of each — and include the system only if necessary.
Inviting Dr. Omeed Sani, a telecommunications engineer from the University of southern California, scientists have developed an algorithm that translates brain waves into subjective feelings of mood. The team worked with six patients with epilepsy with already implanted with electrodes to track the source of their seizures. For three weeks, the brain activity of the patient is carefully monitored, while the mood monitories on a standard questionnaire.
Comparing these two types of information, scientists have developed an algorithm that produced a small number of “neural predictors” — dynamic patterns of activity of neuronal networks that could accurately predict the ever-changing feelings.
There were several flare-UPS, including the limbic system, previously identified by the center for management of mood and motivation.
“These dynamic biomarkers of mood and algorithms to decipher the mood, can provide a picture of the brain processes that underlie the control of mood,” concluded Sleigh.
It is also the first step towards personalized methods of stimulating the brain to treat depression.
As Nature writes, Sleigh and Chang have developed a test system that is ready for testing on humans. Such closed systems have already been tested on several people, but Chang stresses that these preliminary results should be tested further.
Cross the line
A second team of scientists under the leadership of neurosurgeon Emad of Iskandar at the Massachusetts hospital has taken a slightly different approach.
The approach of the so-called transdiagnostic considers the General features of various mental disorders, not a specific mood disorder. Therefore, scientists have developed algorithms that capture and distinguish the brain activity associated with the well-known aspects of a bad mood — for example, increased anxiety, forgetfulness and lack of empathy.
Eskandar believes that the brain wave is only a small part of the data. His team also hopes to record the activity of individual neurons to identify those that lead to mental illness.
The goal, of course, very ambitious. If successful, Iskandar will be able to track the symptoms of the disease, starting with single neurons and ending with the neural circuits of brain activity — and then will have the opportunity to make a layered satin for doctors, which will allow him to find the best methods of treatment.
Studying their own capabilities, scientists have presented an algorithm that determines when people miss something out of sight due to attention deficit. Participants were asked to focus on a task — for example, to identify the emotions in computer-generated faces — parallel tracking the activity of their brains. The algorithm eventually learned to identify patterns of neural activity associated with distraction.
When the researchers stimulated the brains of volunteers in the region responsible for decision-making, their efficiency of solving the problems has improved markedly. Also disappeared the structure of neural activity “scattered brain.”
Currently the team is working on automating the process so that the algorithm directly caused stimulation during attention deficit.
Inside the brain
If these DARPA projects are implemented, our methods of treatment of mental illness will change dramatically. But scientists are worried that we may enter into a minefield of ethics.
To fully realize these closed systems, the algorithm should always know the true feelings of a person. Although it is not reported about mood swings, these data available to researchers and doctors. And if this treatment will ever be commercialized, whether the patients trust the companies to keep their feelings and emotions in safety and security?
Some scientists also worried that the pill will change the electrical happiness of the human ego.
“Any treatment of diseases of the brain, we run the risk of making everyone the same, treat any deviation from the norm as the disease,” said Dr. Karen Rommelfanger of Emory University, speaking on the topic of fuel. “We want to see in all this magic. But if we want to get rid of depression at all? No, you don’t have to. Being human means experiencing the full range of experiences,” she says.
To talk about this will never be over. But, according to Chung, the short-term benefits — the ability to save people from the full range of symptoms is make projects worthwhile. “We first opened a window to the brain,” he says.