The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is set to begin a $70 million program to treat the severity of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome afflicting military combat veterans. The program will also address other neuropsychological illnesses including depression, anxiety, Parkinson's and epilepsy.
The syndrome has been a major issue for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially among personnel who have experienced multiple or extended tours of duty. Treatment is difficult as each case can be highly individualized and the onset of symptoms can be delayed and sporadic.
The five-year program, which will utilize next-generation brain stimulation devices inspired by current Deep Brain Stimulation technology, was launched in support of President Obama's BRAIN initiative research program announced in April 2013. It will develop therapies that involve recording and analysis of brain activity with concurrent electronic neural stimulation.
The program is under the aegis of DARPA's Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program. SUBNETS follows up on the understanding that certain brain functions occurs across several regions of the brain, not confined to distinct anatomical portions of the brain. The program will take advantage of the brain's neural plasticity, which is the ability to re-map brain functions from one area to another, or to a network of areas within the brain. Researchers feel they can develop treatments or therapies to restore normal functionality to brains impaired by illness or injury.
"The brain is very different from all other organs because of its networking and adaptability," according to Justin Sanchez, the DARPA program manager for SUBNETS. "Real-time, closed-loop neural interfaces allow us to move beyond the traditional static view of the brain and into a realm of precision therapy."
Sanchez explained that the lack of advanced understanding of how mental illness specifically manifests in the brain has limited the effectiveness of treatment options.
The program will try to determine which brain regions are focused on different conditions. By measuring brain function from networks down to single neurons, it is hoped that novel therapies can be developed to take advantage of brain plasticity, aiding and abetting the brain's natural abilities and addressing specific dysfunctions.
The University of California, San Francisco and Massachusetts General Hospital will be responsible for conducting the research in the program. Their teams will include physicians, neuroscientists and engineers.