This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. Formerly stroke damage was regarded as mostly irreversible. It was believed that if improvement was not seen after several months, it would never be seen. Unfortunately, this prognosis was dictated by the then current view of the brain, that brain cells cannot be replaced when they die and that the brain is hardwired and cannot be changed. The debunking of these views was covered in the preceding blog posts, “Neurogenesis,” and “Neuroplasticity.”
Given our current understanding of the brain regarding both neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the potential recovery of stroke victims has become optimistic. Research and clinical results have confirmed this optimism. Now treatments are undertaken that would never have been considered under the previous views of the brain. Moreover, treatments are undertaken for much longer periods as it has been shown that stroke victims can regain functions even years after a stroke with ongoing therapy. A previous Healthymemory Blog post, “Transactive Memory: An Aid to Short and Long Term Memory and to Stroke Recovery,” expounds, as the title indicates, on how transactive memory can aid in stroke recovery.
According to Brave New Brain, the future will bring new technologies to prevent damage, renew damaged areas, and replace neurons. One particularly interesting project discussed in the book is the development of an artificial hippocampus. One cannot overemphasize the important role the hippocampus (actually there are two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere of the brain) plays. Perhaps important role is in the long term storage of memories. If the hippocampus does not function properly, new memories are no longer formed (enter “hippocampus” into the search box to find more Healthymemory Blog Posts discussing the hippocampus.).
One should not underestimate the difficulties this project needs to address. First of all, it needs either to identify information to be stored in long term memory or to have this information pre-identified. Storing everything in long term memory would be overwhelming and stultifying. Then you would need to learn how to code the information for memory storage. Finally, you would need to know where to send this information. It is likely that it would need to be sent to many places in the brain. Moreover, the where to send requirement would probably be determined or influenced by the kind of information to be stored. An effective artificial hippocampus probably remains something to be developed in the distant future, if it is ever developed. Nevertheless, it is an important structure, one that certainly warrants investigation. What is learned, even given the ultimate failure of the project, could be quite valuable in our understanding of how human memory works.
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