A startup named Kernel came out of stealth mode yesterday and revealed its ambitious mission: to develop a ready-for-the-clinic brain prosthetic to help people with memory problems. The broad target market includes people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
If the company succeeds, surgeons will one day implant Kernel’s tiny device in their patients’ brains—specifically in the brain region called the hippocampus. There, the device’s electrodes will electrically stimulate certain neurons to help them do their job—turning incoming information about the world into long-term memories.
Kernel’s device will be based on a research effort led by Ted Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California. Berger tells that his experiments with rats and primates make him confident that “it’s really time” for a clinical device.
“We’re testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results,” he says. “We’re going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis.”
Berger’s pioneering work on memory prosthetics was featured in an IEEE Spectrum
article reporting on attempts to end all physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities.
An implanted memory prosthetic would have electrodes to record signals during learning, a microprocessor to do the computations, and electrodes that stimulate neurons to encode the information as a memory.
For people who have difficulty forming lasting memories on their own, the prosthetic would provide a boost.
“We take these memory codes, enhance them, and put them back into the brain,” Berger says. “If we can do that consistently, then we’ll be ready to go.”