Researchers in the United States have conducted a pilot study in humans that indicates that, through artificial intelligence and targeted electrical brain stimulation, it is possible to improve specific human brain functions. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, shows that the method could be a new approach to treating serious mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
The research looked at 12 patients undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital. During the procedure, hundreds of electrodes are placed throughout the brain to record brain activity and identify the source of the seizures. The authorsidentified that the inner capsule – a region of the brain responsible for cognitive control, the process of switching from one thought pattern to another – improved the patients’ mental function when stimulated with small amounts of electrical energy.
According to the study, patients diagnosed with anxiety (in addition to epilepsy) reported an improvement after receiving brain stimulation. They claimed that they were “better able to deflect” distressing thoughts and focus on what they wanted.
This is the first paper to show that a specific human mental function linked to mental illness can be reliably improved using precisely targeted electrical stimulation. It also brought the new information that there are specific subparts of the brain’s inner capsule that are effective for cognitive enhancement.
“This could be a totally new approach in treating mental illness. Instead of trying to suppress symptoms, we could give patients a tool that lets them take control of their own minds,” said the senior author, Alik Widge (MD, PhD) to Science Daily. “We could put them back in the driver’s seat and let them feel a new sense of agency.”
Source: Nature | Science Daily