These algorithms spot mood changes before you do, and could someday tell a stimulator to zap your brain to treat disorders
A man with depression is driving to work when his mood darkens, and the familiar inklings of anxiety begin to creep in. His brain cells start to fire in a pattern that has, in the past, led him down a dark, dangerous mental road. But this man has a set of electrodes implanted in his brain, and wireless software nearby that’s closely monitoring his neural activity. Algorithms recognize the shift in his brain waves and order up a therapeutic dose of electrical stimulation, zapping the faulty circuits. The man arrives at work calm and stable.
The technology in this scenario doesn’t exist yet, but it’s the vision of Maryam Shanechi, an electrical engineer at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, and Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. Shanechi presented their progress this week in Nashville, Tennessee, at a neurotechnology meeting held by DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.
So far, Shanechi and her team have successfully developed algorithms that decoded the brain activity associated with mood changes in seven people. Now, they’re figuring out how to stimulate the brain to affect those mood changes, she reported at the meeting.
When the two pieces of the technology come together, they would form a closed-loop system that puts stimulation therapy decisions in the hands of an algorithm. “We are developing a precise, personalized therapy that takes readings of brain activity, and, based on that, makes decisions on stimulation parameters,” Shanechi said in her presentation in Nashville on Wednesday.