Scientists May Be Able to Manipulate Parts of Your Brain Without Surgery

Forget surgery. Researchers from MIT may have discovered a technique that could stimulate specific parts of the brain using electric fields. No cuts required.

A brain slice that shows the hippocampus cells that were activated by the new stimulation technique (bottom image, lighter green areas on the left)

Just Call it Temporal Interference (TI) Stimulation

Right now, doctors treat diseases like Parkinson's with deep brain stimulation, which requires surgery to implant wire electrodes into the brain. Those electrodes send electric pulses to specific parts of the brain that can help alleviate some tremor symptoms.

But now, researchers at MIT may have found a way to deliver a similar type of stimulation without surgery. In a study published in Cell, they show that it may be possible to stimulate the brain using electric fields created via two scalp electrodes placed on the subject's head.

Called temporal interference (TI) stimulation, the technique creates two electric fields that, when interacting, stimulate the brain at the point of overlap. While the frequency used won't affect brain activity, researchers have shown that the technique can stimulate deep parts of the brains of mice (such as the hippocampus) and researchers can even use the technique to make mice's paws twitch. The stimulation has therapeutic effects for diseases like Parkinson's and depression.

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

But don't expect to see TI stimulation offered to patients tomorrow. The researchers have shown TI stimulation can work in mice brains, but have yet to complete human trials.

And given that the human brain is much bigger, stronger electrical fields might have to be used, which may create its own safety issues.

Still, researchers hope that the technique could make these types of brain treatments less invasive and risky for patients, and make them more accessible. It may even allow doctors to expand the use of deep brain stimulation to a number of new diseases.

2-Minute Neuroscience: The Hippocampus

Written by Stephanie Bucklin July 13, 2017

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