With a small computer implanted into her brain, sending electric stimulation to keep her once-chronic seizures at bay, Emily Borghard is “one of the world’s first true cyborgs,” in the words of “The Future of Everything” host Jennifer Strong.
On a recent episode of the podcast, Borghard explained how her brain implant works to curb her epilepsy.
“I compare [the chip] to a defibrillator in the ER,” said Borghard. “It gives a little zap to the brain to get it to stop what it’s doing and shock it back into normal rhythm.”
Before the surgery, Borghard was suffering from hundreds of seizures a day and bouts of memory loss –fallout from a violent car crash during her senior year of high school that had left her in a coma. Generic treatments weren’t working, she relayed on the podcast.
Doctors diagnosed her with autoimmune encephalitis, a medical condition in which the immune system attacks the brain and causes epilepsy. She tried a number of medications, but they did little to stem the pain, with some of them causing “severe depression.”
Borghard was dealing with up to 200 “spikes” per day — mini-seizures that felt like she was “getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.”
Dr. Lawrence Hirsch, a neurologist at Yale University, recommended the surgery to Borghard. The brain implant was developed by Neuropace, a Silicon Valley company at the forefront of the technology; In 2013, it was the first company to receive FDA approval for chips tracking brain activity.
Although Borghard is one of the first people to have the procedure, brain implants could become much more common in the years to come. Major medical tech companies like Medtronic are working on chips that would help with strokes, Parkinson’s disease and depression.
Startups are also looking to see how neuro-implants can augment our daily lives. Elon Musk, the world’s most popular nerd, recently launched Neuralink, a company aiming to use brain chips to directly connect humans to computers. As advancements in artificial intelligence increase, more companies will be looking to bridge the divide between biology and machines.
For Borghard, the surgery was a godsend. She’s about to graduate with a master’s degree from Fordham University, and spent three years teaching in the south of France. “If you’d asked me if any of this would’ve been possible, I would’ve laughed,” said Borghard.
Listen to more of “The Future of Everything” podcast here.