Northwestern Medicine discovers new memory improvement method

Ciara McCarthy, Editor in Chief

Northwestern researchers discovered that using electrical current to stimulate the brain can improve memory, according to a study published last month.

This research could be used to treat conditions such as strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments that cause poor memory.

“We show for the first time that you can specifically change memory functions of the brain in adults without surgery or drugs, which have not proven effective,” Feinberg Prof. Joel Voss said. “This noninvasive stimulation improves the ability to learn new things. It has tremendous potential for treating memory disorders.”

To improve memory functions in the brain, researchers used magnetic pulses called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This is the first study to show lasting memory improvement after treatment.

Voss, the study’s senior author, explained the research in a University news release by comparing regions of the brain to a symphony orchestra and the stimulations to a world-renowned conductor.

“The brain regions played together better after the stimulation,” he said.

Using stimulation to treat memory damage has multiple advantages over drugs or surgery.

“No medication could be as specific as TMS for these memory networks,” said Jane Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in Voss’s lab. “There are a lot of different targets and it’s not easy to come up with any one receptor that’s involved in memory.”

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