Scientists are constantly attempting to tap the brain for ways to restore memory as well as the deficits caused from traumatic brain injuries. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency posed a challenge to researchers to build a device that could do just that.
The devices are used in a growing trend in neuroscience called direct brain recording. Devices send electrodes deep into the brain, through the skull to interact with parts of the brain linked to memory.
Accordingt to the latest reports on the subject, DARPA will grant a total of $40 million to two universities to build a direct brain recording device that could restore memory for veterans and others suffering from TBI. The universities that were awarded this funding were the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania.
According to one report scientists built an implantable device that was successfully used on rats to restore brain function.The process is called neural prosthesis. In this brain-to-machine-to-brain closed loop, human beings could one day benefit from such an implant.
The program at UCLA and UPenn is called the Restoring Active Memory program and it is being developed to help veterans who have suffered from TBI or other memory loss.
The scientists need to figure out exactly how to stimulate the brain in order to repair some of this function. Their task will involve developing computer models to figure out how the human brain codes memories. They will also need to analyze neural signals, in an attempt to understand how the brain forms these memories. That will help the scientists develop methods to stimulate certain areas of the brain to restore that ability.
The two universities are tasked with different aspects of the project. The UCLA team will work on a model of the hippocampal-entorhinal system, which is thought to be key in learning and memory.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, researchers will be working on implanting electrodes in the brains of their volunteer patients. While the electrodes are implanted the team will play memory games with the patients and record the data collected from the electrodes.
The goals is for the two teams to come together to create a closed-loop system, based on the models they develop from their research, that can be implanted in the brain.
The DARPA funded research is expected to take up to at least four years to complete.
"The start of the [RAM] program marks an exciting opportunity to reveal many new aspects of human memory and learn about the brain in ways that were never before possible," said DARPA Program Manager Justin Sanchez.
Around 270,000 miltary servicemembers have been impacted by TBI. It also affects around 1.7 million civilians every year.