The resulting mood decoder allowed the researchers to determine how each volunteer was feeling based on readings from electrodes in their brains. In theory, this technology should be possible for wider application, allowing us to look into the minds and well-being of people with mood disorders.
Shanechi and her colleagues are now working on what they call a “closed-loop” system. It’s a device that monitors brain activity, recognizes when things are going wrong, and automatically stimulates the brain to return things to “normal” — whatever that might be for any given person. It should help users regulate their mood. “The idea is that you’ll be able to personalize the therapy according to the individual’s needs,” Shanechi says.
For now, the team is working on developing computer models that can understand brain recordings. Any device should be able to not only decipher the mood, but also determine how best to restore the useful brain activity of a person.
Shanechi hopes that such models can eventually be used with wireless electrodes for the brain. There is fascinating evidence that it can work, demonstrated by a woman named Sarah. A team at the University of California, San Francisco implanted a similar closed-loop system to track a particular pattern of brain activity that seemed to become apparent when Sarah’s depressive symptoms were particularly severe. Not exactly a mood decoder, but a “neural sensor”. The device would then deliver an electrical pulse.
And it seemed to work. As Sarah said at a press conference last year: “My depression was contained and it allowed me to start rebuilding a life worth living.”
My colleague Charlotte Gee shared Sarah’s story more details last year.
Brain stimulation has been studied for many brain functions. Non-invasive stimulation can even improve memory in the elderlyas shown in the study I reviewed.