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What Is a Brain Implant?

Implants are often installed through brain surgery, which typically includes anesthesia and a craniotomy.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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A brain implant is a medical device a surgeon can install on the surface of a patient's brain or deep in the cortex, depending on the patient's situation. People can use these devices in diagnosis, treatment, and brain research. The underlying technology is constantly improving as people learn more about the brain and develop better techniques for creating miniature and highly precise electronic devices. Brain implants can treat depression, movement disorders, and a variety of other conditions.

Some brain implants only collect information. One example is a series of electrodes a surgeon may place in a patient's brain for the evaluation of severe epilepsy. The electrodes can record highly localized activity, allowing the surgeon to find out exactly where seizures are originating. The surgeon may be able to excise the damaged area of the brain to stop the seizures, or can implant a brain pacemaker, an implant that will put out electrical signals to disrupt seizure activity.

In deep brain stimulation, a brain implant emits electrical signals to interact with surrounding neurons. The exact mechanisms of this technique are not fully understood, but it appears to help patients with movement disorders like Parkinson's disease, and can also be beneficial in the treatment of depression, according to some studies. Stimulating the brain can also provide useful information for research, to learn more about electrical patterns in the brain and the processes of cognition.

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Patients with brain damage caused by issues like strokes may receive a brain implant to bridge an injured area of the brain and improve cognitive function. The device can respond to signals from electrodes on one side of an area of brain dysfunction, and in turn can transmit signals to jump across that area and communicate with neurons on the other side. This may help with rehabilitation and recovery.

Receiving a brain implant is not without risks. Any surgery carries chances of infection and adverse reactions to anesthesia, which can sometimes be fatal. In the case of brain surgery, the risks are much higher, and can include brain damage. Patients may develop cognitive impairments after surgery, could lose key neurological functions, and also run a risk of death if their brains swell catastrophically or other complications set in after surgery. Working with an experienced surgeon can greatly reduce the risks, but will not eliminate them, and patients should also discuss concerns associated with brain implant use before making any decisions about surgery.

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