A silicon chip now in development could help restore the short-term memories of people suffering from strokes, epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles say the implant would replace a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stores memories.
The chip, which mimics the way in which a rat's hippocampus reacts to stimuli, is being tested on pieces of rat brain kept alive in the laboratory. Researchers hope to test it on rats next year. Human trials are several years away, says Samuel A. Deadwyler, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University, who heads the animal testing.
If it works, the chip is likely to raise questions about the relationship between the organic brain and the sense of self. "Are our brains simply complex computer programs that can be replaced piece by piece?" asks Kari Swarztrauber, M.D., M.P.H., a neurologist at Oregon Health and Science University.