Deep Brain Stimulation: A Cognitive Panacea?

His name is Andres Lozano, and he’s a virtuoso (we encourage you to watch his TED talk to see him change lives with the flip of a switch) on the cutting edge of neuroscience. His canvas: the human brain. His brush: deep brain stimulation. The technique, allowed by state of the art surgical techniques, allows him to implant electrodes virtually anywhere within the brain. If we imagine the brain to be a big circuit board, these electrodes are like switches that can adjust the volume of circuits that are out of whack, literally nullifying the symptoms of a broad range of cognitive disorders in an instant.

Take Parkinson’s. At 4:25 in Dr. Lozano’s speech, you can observe a woman in whom he implanted an electrode trembling uncontrollably in the clutches of Parkinson’s. Then, with the press of a button, the electrode is activated, the circuit is nullified, and she behaves normally.

Disorders beyond motor control are also treatable with deep brain stimulation. For instance, Alzheimer’s is a disease that acts by shutting down glucose uptake in the frontal and parietal lobes (responsible for memory and executive function). Once that happens, the lights go off so to speak, but somebody is still home. By implanting an electrode directly onto that circuit, Dr. Lozano’s clinical trials are showing thus far that within a year, glucose uptake resumes and the lights go back on.

Deep brain stimulation even has applications within mood disorders like depression, which is best described as a deactivation of the circuits controlling motivation and drive (observable on PET scans where blood literally drains from these areas, turning them blue). However, by implanting an electrode in this precise circuit (“area 25,” as it’s referred to), Dr. Lozano is seeing a complete reversal of symptoms.

It’s amazing stuff, and for those whose families have been impacted by terrible cognitive disorders such as these, watching the video is an extremely moving experience. You’re all strongly encouraged to do so.

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