Microchip implants: From data to dementia

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    Microchip implants and information

    Some microships implants are use to retrieve medical information. (Shutterstock)

    Microchip implants, which are tiny digital devices placed under a person’s skin, aren’t new, but they’re getting more advanced: people are now using these to power up motorcycles, upload and download data, and retrieve medical information.

    The future of microchipping is wide open, and it’s quickly gaining traction. “Grinders,” the term used to designate individuals who implant themselves with microchips to enhance or gain senses, are getting more and more attention as they demonstrate the wide range of bodily modifications possible.

    Medical researchers, on the other hand, are excited about the possibility of restoring memories, via microchip, for those people affected by dementia or even early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

    Personal Identification

    In the bodily modification realm, Amal Graafstra, who describes himself as an “adventure technologist,” is on the leading edge of microchip implantation.

    He’s the founder of Dangerous Things, a biohacking company based in Seattle. Graafstra embodies his company’s vision of uniting human and machine: he has a microchip in each hand. His right hand has a re-writeable chip, which allows him to upload and download data from devices like his phone, while in his left he has a microchip that’s used to unlock his door, start his motorcycle, and login to his computer.

    The latter device, which is a type of radio frequency identification chip (RFID), employs the same technology as our credit cards and other scannable items. Graafstra claims that by embedding it in his body, he reduces the chance of losing that information, either by accident or to a malicious card scanner, which would need to be quite close to his hand in order to snatch up his personal information.

    Other proponents of microchip implants suggest that digital devices could help doctors verify a person’s medical information. VeriChip (now PositiveID), the company that in 2004 gained a license from the FDA to implant their RFID chips in willing patients, is founded on this basis. According to NBC News, their implant is meant to help doctors get to vital medical information more quickly by providing a secure code for a hospital to scan. After scanning, the appropriate doctor is allowed to access the patient’s secure medical information in an external database.

    Researchers have also experimented with implants that release medications at scheduled intervals, though these haven’t been used on the public.

    Memory Aid

    Quite beyond just providing access to medical records, researchers are also looking to use microchip implants as memory aids.

    A U.S.-based team of researchers has been working on a chip that could replicate the process of creating and storing long-term memories. If they can get it right, a chip implanted into part of a dementia patient’s brain would recognize what the damaged portion of the brain should be doing. By using electrodes, the chip would stimulate the damaged area to mimic the functioning of undamaged cells, helping that person to retrieve lost memories.

    The ultimate goal

    While the ultimate goal is to restore full brain and memory function for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers, researchers admit that there’s more involved in that than microchip implants. They see their research as helping early-stage dementia patients and working in coordination with medication to bring back patients’ memories.

    Whether for medical advance, personal identification, or bodily modification, microchips are undoubtedly part of our future. Just how far we’ll take them is yet to be seen, but for the moment, don’t discount those grinders and researchers working to connect humans and technology ever more closely.

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