Brain Implant Improves Thinking in Monkeys, First Such Demonstration in Primates

Researchers at Wake Forest have begun testing a brain implant on monkeys that has caused a marked increase in their memory. The scientists tested the technology by showing the monkeys an image of a toy, a person, or a mountain range. The monkeys were then required to choose the same image from a larger group of images that appeared on the same screen a little while later. After two years of practice the monkeys were answering correctly about 75% of the time on easier matches and 40% on harder matches. The monkeys were fitted with a probe that recorded the neural pathways they used in deciding their answer. The researches then determined the neural pathway used when the monkeys answered correctly. After placing the implant in their neural cortex, the researchers would stimulate the “correct” response neural pathway of the monkeys during testing; causing a 10% increase in correct answers. The researchers then gave the monkeys cocaine to intentionally cause an increase in incorrect responses. Despite the cocaine, when researchers would stimulate the “correct” response neural pathway there was an increase in right responses by the monkeys.

However, the technology is still far from marketable. Dr. Sam A. Deadwlyer of Wake Forest said the “whole idea is that the device would generate an output pattern that bypasses the damaged area, providing an alternative connection.” Because decision-making and memory are multifaceted processes, which involve many neural circuits, the use of a device that only influences one circuit is of limited use. “But not long ago, even a simple neural prosthesis would have seemed like science fiction.”

My question is, as technology develops which will allow doctors to not only repair damaged organs but also enhance them should the government regulate who can receive the enhancements? Or, would such enhancements be considered a freedom of expression or another fundamental right?

One comment

  1. To add to Zack’s questions, if we eventually regularly perform medical enhancements, at what age will we start? Will doctors step in once parents or relatives detect developmental issues or will parents seek out doctors while their offspring are still in embryonic stages of development?

    Many parents already seek pre-birth intervention so that they can choose the sex of their children. Becoming an egg donor can be quite lucrative these days. Advertisements seeking a “5-foot-10, athletic woman who had scored at least 1400 on her Scholastic Achievement Test and who had no major family medical problems,” appear regularly in newspapers. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/03/us/50000-offered-to-tall-smart-egg-donor.html. The price of your eggs: $50,000. Now that American parents have jacked the prices up, others have chosen to seek egg donors abroad, where the total cost, including travel, can be as low as $6,000 (http://parentsviaeggdonation.org/ivf_abroad.html).

    Americans today rely heavily on enhancements, some of which we don’t even realize are enhancers. For example, Adderall, for those who aren’t medically diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, is used to enhance performance in that it allows students or professionals to stay up late and cram for an exam or a presentation. Some American moms have admitted to being addicted to Adderall, claiming that it allows them to get more accomplished around the house and to be more alert, involved mothers. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/adderall-rise-mothers/story?id=16622475.

    I would be interested to see a comparison done among the United States and other countries – how often college students and mothers abroad rely on a simple pill to enhance their performance. Is it as important to them as it is to us? Or how many international families are willing to pay thousands of dollars to craft the perfect child. I feel like the societal pressure that Americans place upon themselves and others is unique, one that isn’t quite so intense abroad. I could be wrong. But if this obsession with perfection is widespread, we all need to ask ourselves if we can deal with the additional pressure that will surely come with a more perfect society. If every child will be the smartest in the classroom or the fastest on the football field, will there be any diversity? Will we have created a super-culture that ends up defeating us all?

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