Say Bye to Brain and Spinal Injuries

July 31, 2014

There are nearly 2 million traumatic brain injuries per year, 500,000 of which require hospital admission. 75,000-100,000 deaths are due to this in the United States alone. Similarly, there are approximately 6 million people living with paralysis, while 250,000 Americans have spinal cord injuries.

Brain and spinal injury is clearly a huge cause for suffering. We have not yet dug deeper into the human brain, so we have not been able to see it’s bigger picture yet. Due to this, it is extremely risky to treat many brain injuries using surgery. Similarly, many forms of spinal injury are also extremely hard to treat due to its fragility.

However, the whole dynamic of this is going to change with the creation of a technology designed for the detection and alleviation of brain and spinal injuries. This amazing piece of technology will allow for brain and spinal injuries to be a common issue, along the lines of a bruise or a paper cut. This device will be implanted onto the section of the spinal cord close to the brain, which will then be able to monitor both the spinal cord as well as the brain. There will be sensors on the device that send electric signals out and receive feedback; abnormal feedback will trigger the device. Its source of energy would be the heat generated by the body. There will be a thermoelectric generator on the device, which will allow the heat generated by the body to be converted into electric energy for the device to run on.

If somebody has just suffered from a trauma to the brain or spinal cord, this device will sense the trauma in the respective region and trigger the neurons to send out certain proteins and antibodies to accelerate the process of healing. Healing always takes time, and this device will create no exception. The human body will as it is now, except with a device to simply direct the body and the brain to produce the healing proteins and antibodies where necessary.

We are a long way off from such a incredible and useful piece of technology. It is going to require immense amounts of research to develop this, such as the mapping of the human brain to see what proteins are expressed in what part of the brain for what activity. It is essential to know the function of the proteins so that the right ones are released for the appropriate injuries in the appropriate parts of the brain. This information will be embedded into the device in somewhat of a encyclopedia format, where the corresponding injuries will trigger the respective proteins. As this research will be part of a progression, the next step will be the creation of a substance that acts as these healing proteins. The idea of this research would be to develop substances which will be more efficient for the process of healing for the human body as an aid to the device.

Keep in mind that not all brain and spinal injuries will be so easily fixed in the beginning stages, as the device will not be as developed. However, the aim is to be able to sustain immense injuries, but come out of the process feeling healthy and stable. This device only affects the nervous system, so skeletal injuries are out of its control. However, ensuring security to the brain and spinal cord will resolve a major part of the problem, as these two structures are vital parts of the body.


Sources for statistics:

Memory Maker

July 30, 2014

Memory Maker 2000™

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Ok, sorry about that guys, my inner Billie Mays had to come out.

But in all reality, this product could work in the very distant future. Extremely small scanners would have to be invented such that the entire brain could be scanned from within – with this technology at hand, the Memory Maker 2000™ could then release bonding agents that would keep synapses connected, essentially forever. New connections could always be formed with the remaining dendrites and axons, I am sure. When these new memories are made, the small device would again release the bonding agent (internal mechanisms could enable it to make enough of this bonding agent to last well into and after death). This cycle would allow for all memories and information to be stored forever and the human race to advance far past of what we are currently capable. Information centers would no longer be 1 Terabyte Personal Computers, but rather the 2.5 petabyte human mind. This product, or technology, could have extremely useful practical applications but would be beleaguered with a plethora of ethical concerns. Enhancing the human mind, or body, in any way has been frowned upon – genetically engineered corn is fine, but genetically engineered humans are not exactly a Sunday afternoon’s talk. Even PEDs are extremely tabooed and are not permitted in major sports. Creating a complete memory enhancer for the brain would obviously be tagged with a myriad of ethical concerns. However, disregarding ethics, this product could become very useful for anyone and everyone in the human race. We do not all have eidetic memories, but they could be very useful.

This could happen after 2100, considering the extreme technologies – not to mention the necessary prior research – required to build this object.

Memory Maker 2000

Erasing Memories

July 30, 2014

Our brain is constantly making new memories by rearranging synaptic connections between neurons. This is facilitated by the plastic nature of our brains. Brain plasticity decreases with age; that is why it is much easier to learn new skills and information as a child, than as an adult. When we remember things, action potentials are fired along the same neuronal pathways that were activated when we first formed the memory.

The technology I have designed is able to manipulate the synaptic connections between neurons so as to erase memories. This is inspired by the technology used in the movie The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, the characters visit a firm called Lacuna, Inc. which erases painful memories of an ended relationship. The mechanism is not explicitly explained, but the characters are asked to relive as many of their memories with their ex-partner as possible while under live brain imaging machines.

A technology like this would be extremely useful in combatting the effects of extremely traumatic events on victims (for example: soldiers, victims of kidnappings or abuse). It could also be used in matters of international security and espionage.

There are two ways in which this technology could work: one ideal, and one more realistic.

The ideal technology would work very similarly to the one in the movie. A patient would be able to relive the memories they wish to erase under the monitoring of a 3D brain imaging technology. This technology would have to be a great deal more powerful and more accurate than fMRI. It would have to be able to construct and magnify the pathway of neurons that are being activated by this memory at a cellular level. In this way, scientists could see the specific synaptic connections with which the memory is associated. I imagine the images produced by such a machine looking similar to the 3D modelling of Dr. Jeff Lichtman’s circuits. With the identification of the neuronal network, scientists could then surgically manipulate the synaptic connections in question, effectively erasing the memory. The physical tools required of this would have to be microscopic in size (nanobots anyone?) and be handled by a robot, as humans would not have the precision to carry out such a delicate task. In this way, specific memories could be targeted and erased. The main obstacle I can see in such a procedure, is how the scientists would determine how to ‘re-wire’ the synaptic connections.

The more realistic version of the technology appears in Philip K Dick’s short story Paycheck. In the story, the protagonist carries out a classified job for a certain amount of time, and then has all his memories of that time erased. This is different from the ‘ideal’ version of the technology in that specific memories are not targeted, but rather the patient’s memories are restored to that of an earlier time period. The patient would have a 3D brain scan done at the beginning of the time period, this too at a scale that shows the individual synaptic connections. After the time period is up, the scientists would use the same surgical tools mentioned above to restore the synaptic connections to those that were originally recorded. This overcomes the obstacle addressed in the ‘ideal’ technology.

Realistically speaking, technology like this is a long ways away. We have yet to model the mammalian brain at a cellular level, though the technology in Dr. Licthman’s lab is on its way to doing so. A supremely faster, non-invasive version of such modelling is what would be needed for the procedure I’ve outlined to take place. Though neuroscience is fast developing, I don’t expect such technology to have been developed in my lifetime.

The surgical tools, on the other hand, have precedents all over the medical world (though not on such a small scale). With the state of innovation in biomedical engineering, I could expect such a technology to be developed in the next few decades.