DARPA and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LNLL) are teaming up to develop a brain implant to treat patients with different memory loss conditions that still don't have a cure. The implant will stimulate and record neurons that help restore memory.
Scientists from University of Pennsylvania and University of California Los Angeles are tasked to lead this national project that aims to improve memory impairment through deliverance of small electricity doses to the brain.
Since 2000, over 270,000 U.S. veterans are diagnosed with TBI or traumatic brain injury which affects around 1.7 million civilians in the country every year. The condition interferes with a person's ability to recollect memories prior the injury as well as the capacity to make or keep new ones.
"We owe it to our service members to accelerate research that can minimize the long-term impacts of their injuries," DARPA Program Manager Justin Sanchez said. "Despite increasingly aggressive prevention efforts, traumatic brain injury remains a serious problem in military and civilian sectors. Through the Restoring Active Memory program, DARPA aims to better understand the underlying neurological basis of memory loss and speed the development of innovative therapies."
First, the team will develop computer models which describe the way neurons encode memories and analyze neural signals to find out how targeted stimulations might restore the brain's capacity to make memories.
The UCLA scientists will develop a hippocampal-entorhinal system model using the data from patients with epilepsy who have implanted brain electrodes. This system is involved in memory and learning. Meanwhile, Penn scientists will look into neurosurgical patients who have electrodes implanted on their brains as well to record data while the subjects play memory games on the computer. This will help them understand how well their memory function works. All subjects will be volunteers with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease or other neurological conditions.
The agency is funding the Penn project with $22.5 million for a four-year endeavor to seek cure for thousands of veterans who suffered from TBI. The UCLA project has a $15 million budget. There are major scientific and technological challenges as scientists develop new wireless hardware and devices, computational models and algorithms to interpret signals. Once these are all developed, clinical trials in humans and animal studies will commence. The studies will undergo institutional review boards and the Department of Defense review/Devices need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.