Episode 30: Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation is like a pacemaker for your brain: it can stop tremors, wake you from a coma, and maybe even make you smarter. All these miraculous results, but nobody knows exactly how it works. Maybe I'm crazy, but I always find it reassuring when I talk to a scientist and find out that they don't know what's going on either.

For this episode I spoke with Dr. Michele Tagliati, a neurologist at Mt. Sinai, and a leader in the field of DBS. He's approaching the question from a clinician's perspective: tweaking parameters and discovering which techniques work best for patients suffering from Parkinsons and other movement disorders. I didn't have enough time to include it in the podcast, but we also talked about the researchers who are coming from the other direction, using computer models of brain circuitry to try and predict how certain kinds of electrical stimulation will affect actual brains. The idea is that these two lines of research will eventually meet somewhere in the middle: if we can understand enough about how it works, we may be able to apply this technique to all sorts of neurological disorders. I might even be able to do the Sunday Times Crossword without making up words.

He didn't ask, but my theory is that it has something to do with electricity. In your brain.

—Jonathan Coulton


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