SCIENTISTS USE MAGNETS TO STIMULATE MEMORY

Electromagnets could be the key to increased memory function.For a medical administrative assistant, it might be tough to keep track of the entire front office of a private practice. Generally, human memory seems to be inconsistent, at times leaving us forgetting where we placed our car keys or the topic of conversation. However, a new study conducted by scientists at Northwestern University has potentially found a novel way to increase memory function using magnets. The research, published in Science, examined the relationship between the hippocampus and associative memory, using a process called transcranial magnetic stimulation to see if memory function could be improved. The research team found that those who received TMS had significantly improved memory on tests compared to those who did not receive the treatment. Though it is too early to determine the long-term benefits that TMS has on memory function, the treatment could be used to slow degenerative mental diseases, as well as benefit patients suffering from depression.

What are ECT and TMS?

Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure in which electric currents are passed through the brain in an attempt to treat depression or other mental illness.The general concept of this therapy has been used for centuries, stemming from ancient times when people would place electric eels on a person’s head to treat headaches or mental illness.Electroconvulsive therapy was then further developed in 1937 as a treatment for schizophrenic patients. The treatment developed a stigma because high voltages were employed without anesthesia, causing pain for patients as well as seizures. ECT is still sometimes used today to treat depression, but the practice is now much more patient-friendly, as anesthesia is now regularly used before ECT.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation has some similarities to ECT, but in practice looks very different. A strong electromagnet is used to send electricity through the brain. The magnets are placed on the scalp and used to stimulate different regions of the brain.TMS is increasingly being used as a treatment for psychiatric disorders and has appeared to benefit some patients.Several TMS devices have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of now for the use of treating migraines and depression.As more research is done, specifically examining if TMS can have long-term benefits in regard to memory function, there is a possibility that the treatment will be used to treat a wider range of mental illnesses.

The study

Joel Voss led the study along with colleagues at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The team recruited 16 healthy adults between the ages of 21 and 40 and then mapped each subject’s brain. The team did this by using a system of MRIs, and identified the hippocampus in relation to other regions of the brain to make a map that was specifically relevant to memory function.Essentially, there is high neuron traffic that occurs between parts of the brain when using memory-related functions and an MRI scan allows the scientists to make note of such activity.

The team first administered a memory test to establish each subject’s baseline memory function. Researchers then used TMS to send a magnetic pulse into a small area of the brain that varied depending on each subject’s connection between the hippocampus and parietal cortex.The team performed TMS for 20 minutes each day for a total of five days, then subjects were provided a 24-hour window without TMS treatment. Then the memory test was given again.

The researchers found that those who had received TMS treatment did 20 to 25 percent better on the memory test.9 The study effectively demonstrated that the electromagnet was able to reach regions deep within the brain and positively alter memory function. While it is still too early to know if TMS works for everyone and how well it preserves memory function, scientists are excited about potentially finding a new way to help patients with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia or other psychiatric disorders.

Though some drugs have been developed, such as antidepressants, the pharmacy technology industry has yet to find a drug that can truly benefit memory function. It will be a task of future pharmacy technicians to search for ways to benefit patients with mental disorders. This study illuminates the importance of neuron traffic and communication between different parts of the brain when it comes to stimulating memory. Scientists and pharmacists will be able to use that information moving forward to come up with more effective ways of treating depression, schizophrenia, dementia and other psychiatric issues.

1“Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)” by Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. October 12, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/electroconvulsive-therapy/basics/definition/prc-20014161

2“Electroshock therapy introduced 1938” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dh38el.html

3“Rebooting memory with magnets” by Emily Underwood. Science. August 28, 2014. http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/08/rebooting-memory-magnets

4“Rebooting memory with magnets” by Emily Underwood. Science. August 28, 2014. http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/08/rebooting-memory-magnets

5“Rebooting memory with magnets” by Emily Underwood. Science. August 28, 2014. http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/08/rebooting-memory-magnets

6“Targeted enhancement of cortical-hippocampal brain networks and associative memory” by Jane X. Wang1, Lynn M. Rogers2, Evan Z. Gross1, Anthony J. Ryals1, Mehmet E. Dokucu3, Kelly L. Brandstatt1, Molly S. Hermiller1, Joel L. Voss. Science. August 29, 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6200/1054.abstract?sid=97f99f03-5fc9-44dc-b5bb-1b93444ceda1

7“Rebooting memory with magnets” by Emily Underwood. Science. August 28, 2014. http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/08/rebooting-memory-magnets

8“Targeted enhancement of cortical-hippocampal brain networks and associative memory” by Jane X. Wang1, Lynn M. Rogers2, Evan Z. Gross1, Anthony J. Ryals1, Mehmet E. Dokucu3, Kelly L. Brandstatt1, Molly S. Hermiller1, Joel L. Voss. Science. August 29, 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6200/1054.abstract?sid=97f99f03-5fc9-44dc-b5bb-1b93444ceda1

9“Targeted enhancement of cortical-hippocampal brain networks and associative memory” by Jane X. Wang1, Lynn M. Rogers2, Evan Z. Gross1, Anthony J. Ryals1, Mehmet E. Dokucu3, Kelly L. Brandstatt1, Molly S. Hermiller1, Joel L. Voss. Science. August 29, 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6200/1054.abstract?sid=97f99f03-5fc9-44dc-b5bb-1b93444ceda1

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