PsychEng Seminar: Prof. Morgan Barense, Neuroscience-Guided Digital Memory Augmentation to Treat Memory Loss

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Neuroscience-Guided Digital Memory Augmentation to Treat Memory Loss

Dr. Morgan Barense, Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Toronto, Department of Psychology


Fifty million people worldwide live with dementia. No disease-modifying treatment exists, and drug trials in the past decade have had a 99.6% failure rate. Amid these consistently disappointing drug trials, cognitive interventions have garnered interest as a complementary tactic to treat memory loss. A promising approach is Digital Memory Augmentation (DMA), in which portable devices capture information about everyday events for later review. Unfortunately, however, currently available DMA approaches do not leverage important cognitive neuroscience discoveries to maximize memory.

We developed a new kind of DMA based on our understanding of how the brain encodes and consolidates memories. Our smartphone-based device – the “HippoCamera” – captures and replays videos of real-life events to compensate for compromised brain function. Mimicking endogenous hippocampal replay, our device replays speeded and contextually-linked events. Capitalizing on key findings in cognitive psychology, the device strengthens memory using spaced exposure and self-generation of memory cues. This first-generation HippoCamera produced large autobiographical memory gains in healthy older adults that lasted for 3 months. Memory gains were accompanied by enhanced activity in the hippocampus and autobiographical memory networks. Ongoing work will optimize and expand the function of this promising DMA tool, adapting it for individuals with more severe memory impairment and expanding its functionality to boost memory for real-world spatial routes.

Speaker Biography:

Dr. Morgan Barense, Professor and Canada Research Chair, received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, UK. She remained in Cambridge for her postdoctoral work to undertake a Peterhouse Research Fellowship. She joined the faculty at the University of Toronto in 2009, was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014, and then to Full Professor in 2019. She currently directs the Toronto Neuroimaging Facility. Trained in animal neuroscience, human neuropsychology, fMRI, and cognitive psychology, she enjoys bringing these approaches together to study the neural underpinnings of memory.

She has been honoured with a number of domestic and international awards, including a Young Investigator Award from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, an Early Investigator Award and Lifetime Fellowship from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, an Early Career Award from the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science, a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, a James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award, an Early Researcher Award from the Province of Ontario, and a Connaught Innovation Award.

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