Written by By Laura Lindsey, CNN
It’s a short walk up and down Canal Street in NYC’s West Village, where Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani painted, writes Isabela Neuwirth
The streets are lined with lofts and galleries, and smells of marijuana greet visitors as they pass the growing plants. But if they look closer, they’ll find a few holes, mainly so-called deep-brain implants – devices that aim to improve the function of the brain — and what they will look like.
Deep-brain implants have been around for decades. Developed to treat neurological conditions like epilepsy, they’ve also become increasingly popular for treating dementia, and for potential surgical applications. But as brain disorders become more prevalent — not to mention more lethal — scientists are racing to find out how exactly deep-brain implants work.
That’s where the solar plexus brain stimulation project comes in.
A man dressed as a vampire. Credit: Orizon//UIG via Getty Images
Since 2012, the deep-brain stimulation project (dubbed “DBS” for short) has been funded by several German pharmaceutical companies, through the company of Derk-Jan Dijk. He’s the technical director of St. Jude Medical, a company that creates neurotechnology for neurological therapies.
“It works by stimulating different parts of the brain, specifically with the vascularized body neurons,” Dijk explained. “That means that you stimulate these neurons that are needed for cognitive function, such as memory formation, reaction time and processing information.”
Based on what scientists know about the hippocampus, Dijk says that the brain may rely on this sort of visual stimulation for all of its physical processes. And for patients, this stimulation may be the only hope for getting their experience back.
“With this type of stimulation, some patients seem to recover more in terms of behaviors,” he explained. “The big challenge is not for the patients. It’s for the medical care providers, to make sure that they don’t have changes in the long term cognitive behavior.”
The intention, of course, is not to turn these devices into a medical treatment. Rather, the only goal for the project is to find out how the technology works, and what other applications the monitoring devices might have.
Operations for Canada
There’s a sensor inside an implanted battery, which releases tiny electrical pulses to the brain. Credit: Simon Boassegard
For instance, another company, VPSI (Von der Puff IP), is currently raising funds on a crowdfunding site, hoping to build an implant that they claim has therapeutic properties. Currently in development for Parkinson’s patients, they’re targeting the Canada, France and Germany regions for studies.
As with any medical treatment that’s not FDA-approved, the safety of the devices will need to be examined.
“In the first study we have to ask an ethical question, because all clinical trials are designed for the benefit of the patients,” said Michael Levitz, a professor in the department of neurosurgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “And the problem with this process, is that the patients need to pay for these treatments. That makes you think of a very difficult balance.”
VASO, a company based in Germany, is currently in the midst of an FDA-approved trial for a deep-brain stimulation device that they hope will help stroke patients regain their use of their muscles. And ResearchGate, a Facebook-type platform that connects thousands of scientists around the world, held its own case study of a deep-brain stimulation implant to help a diabetic.
By Susan Amos for CNN