The Uncommon Engineer Talks Decoding Memory

Latest podcast episode features neuro engineer Annabelle Singer discussing Alzheimer’s, memory and neural decoding.

Check out the latest episode of The Uncommon Engineer podcast in the player above.

Our memories make us who we are; in many ways, they define us.  This is what makes Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases that affect a person’s memory are so devastating.

“People know of it as a memory impairment,” said Annabelle Singer, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and a neuro engineer at the Georgia Tech College of Engineering.  “People with advanced forms of Alzheimer’s will even forget their family members.  But some of the earliest signs of the disease are what we call ‘deficits in spatial navigation.’  People get lost in a familiar place; people have trouble finding words that they commonly use. These are the kinds of memory impairment that we see early in the disease, and that we think are signs of the neural networks—in particular, the hippocampus and related structures—going wrong early on in the disease.”

How does engineering come into Alzheimer’s research?

“Engineering plays several key roles in our research,” Singer continued.  “First, at a most fundamental level, engineering is a key part of how we think about how the brain works.  When we’re trying to understand memory, we’re trying to understand how the brain encodes information, how it stores that information and how it recalls that information.”

“That kind of information processing is really heavily informed by engineering, in in sense that the brain is in many ways an electrical organ.  It’s also a chemical organ, and so that information is encoded with electrical signals.  Sometimes we think of them as zeroes and ones, but it’s actually not quite that simple.  But that’s a key way that we think about the brain.”

In the latest episode of The Uncommon Engineer, hear Dr. Singer discuss the use of engineering to record and analyze brain activity to understand memory and develop possible treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Annabelle Singer is an assistant professor and neuro engineer with the Georgia Tech Department of Biomedical Engineering.  Her long-term goal is to integrate innovative engineering, biology and computational approaches to understand how neural activity produces memories and protects brain health, in order to engineer neural activity to treat brain diseases.