Researchers, funded by the US military, are developing AI technology that can stimulate the brain to treat mental illness.
These are ‘closed-loop’ brain implants that use algorithms to detect patterns associated with mood disorders, and then deliver electrical pulses in response to a person’s feelings and behaviour. They’re being tested in people for the first time, and the hope is that these devices can shock the brain back to a healthy state without input from a physician.
The theory behind this isn’t new – it’s based on a concept called Deep Brain Stimulation, which is the implantation of electrodes into the brain that stimulate certain parts of it using electrical impulses.
It’s used already in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, but DBS hasn’t thus far been all that successful in treating mental illness – there was a major study that showed no improvement after one year of treatment.
But now, the scientists trialling this technology reckon their attempt might work because they are designing these implants to specifically treat mental illness and only turn on when needed.
These scientists are also supporting another group of researchers in Boston, who are experimenting with depression and PTSD in veteran soldiers.
They mapped brain activity associated with behaviours that are present in mental health disorders — things like difficulty with concentration, and completing tasks – and found that delivering electrical pulses to areas of the brain involved in decision-making and emotion significantly improved the performance of participants.
They also found they were able to reverse forgetfulness or distractedness using this kind of stimulation, and are now testing algorithms that use specific patterns of brain activity as a trigger to automatically stimulate the brain.
Our host Dr. Perera commented that this technology is more of an individualised approach – we know that disease processes don’t always occur in the same way – they may be unique to an individual, and it raises the possibility that we could treat mental illness based on real physiological signs, rather than just the judgement of a mental health professional.
Originally Broadcast: Friday 1st December 2017