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Brain Breakthroughs

A mannequin head is wearing black rimmed glasses and a researcher’s hand holds a small vial in front of them because a small device is attached and trying to identify the smell.
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VPM News Focal Point
Artificial intelligence is proving useful for medical breakthroughs

Researchers use technology and deep brain stimulation to develop Neuroprosthetics that may restore the sense of smell or treat seizures and other ailments. 


SHONA SARTIN (PATIENT, VCU HEALTH): I went in like shut down mode because I didn't know where it was coming from and...

ANGIE MILES: Shona Sartin is remembering 2012 when the unexpected onset of epileptic seizures disrupted her life.

SHONA SARTIN: And I'm just pretty much trying to figure out what's wrong with my brain, and I'm tired of taking all this medication and, but once I got the implant, everything started going good. Everything got a lot better.

ANGIE MILES: The team that restored function for Sartin minimizing seizures and enabling her to cook, drive, and exercise again is at Virginia Commonwealth University.

DR. KENICHIRO ONO (NEUROLOGIST & PROFESSOR, VCU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE): We use electrical stimulation to treat seizures that don't get better or controlled with usual medications.

SHONA SARTIN: The Embrace is located here, but you'll never see it.

ANGIE MILES: They're using electrodes and implants for a technique known as Deep brain stimulation.

DR. PAUL KOCH (NEUROSURGEON & PROFESSOR, VCU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE): Those electrodes are then connected to a smart device, basically a tiny computer and battery that gets implanted under the skin and controls the kind of electrical stimulation that those wires can deliver.

ANGIE MILES: Other technology may come to the rescue of those suffering with no sense of smell, a much larger number since the pandemic.

DR. RICHARD COSTANZO (FMR. DIRECTOR, SMELL AND TASTE DISORDERS CENTER, VCU HEALTH): We get letters and emails all the time from individuals that have lost their sense of smell, and it expressed to us their frustrations that physicians keep telling them there's nothing that could be done. And now we're providing hope for those people, and that's very gratifying.

ANGIE MILES: In development, is a device that picks up vapors of odors in the air.

DR. DANIEL COELHO (DIRECTOR, VCU COCHLEAR IMPLANT CENTER): It's an odor detector paired with a processor that when it receives odor A, the processor will say, "Okay, that's odor A," and now it sends out a unique stimulating pattern to an electrode.

ANGIE MILES: So, with the aid of a computer, the ability to smell is restored. These researchers say their interventions are based on dumb technology. They program the computers to carry out specific commands, but in the near future, computers will use artificial intelligence recognizing patterns and learning how to help the patient without the help of medical professionals.

Watch ALL four extended interviews with the experts from this story


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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