|DARPA has selected two universities to initially lead the agency’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, which aims to develop and test wireless, implantable “neuroprosthetics” that can help overcome memory deficits incurred as a result of traumatic brain injury or disease.|
The US military researchers agency, DARPA has announced they have awarded $40 million toward developing a new kind of brain implant that may help restore memories in wounded soldiers and civilians.
The work represents a major scientific leap forward, but experts said many hurdles remain before it can be shown to work in people, the agency said.
The aim of the project is to develop and test wireless, fully implantable neural-interface medical devices that can serve as “neuroprosthetics”—technology that can effectively bridge the gaps that interfere with an individual’s ability to encode new memories or retrieve old ones.
"The start of the Restoring Active Memory 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."
“The start of the Restoring Active Memory 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's Justin Sanchez, Program Manager for the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program. “Anyone who has witnessed the effects of memory loss in another person knows its toll and how few options are available to treat it. We’re going to apply the knowledge and understanding gained in RAM to develop new options for treatment through technology.”
"Our vision is to develop neuroprosthetics for memory recovery in patients living with brain injury and dysfunction," said Justin Sanchez, program manager of at DARPA.
DARPA said it was carefully weighing the ethics of such experiments, and is consulting with a panel of neuroscience experts about potential pitfalls associated with the research.
The work is part of a four-year program that supports President Barack Obama's Brain Initiative, a $100 million effort.
The latest DARPA awards fund scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, up to $15 million the University of California, Los Angeles, and $2.5 million to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Under the terms of separate cooperative agreements with DARPA, UCLA will receive up to $15 million and Penn will receive up to $22.5 million over four years, with full funding contingent on the performer teams successfully meeting a series of technical milestones. DARPA also has a cooperative agreement worth up to $2.5 million in place with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to develop an implantable neural device for the UCLA-led effort.
Medtronic, the medical device technology company, was to contribute with a "cost-sharing effort," said Sanchez, but details on that were not immediately available.
If it works for those patients, "then we will have gained extremely valuable information on how to restore normal memory function in patients with traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease," said Michael Kahana, director of Penn's Computational Memory lab.
A statement from UCLA said scientists will be looking at how to "intervene with sophisticated electrical stimulation to help restore memory function."
As an example of the kind of memory that researchers aim to restore, Sanchez cited a simple trip to the store, for which a person would need to remember the name of the store, where it is located, perhaps the phone number or the name of the owner.
The Penn team will study neurosurgical patients with implanted brain electrodes, recording data as they play computer-based memory games in order to gain an understanding of how successful memory function works. All patients will be volunteers.
The teams then plan to integrate these models into implantable closed-loop systems.
Concurrent with research on rats, the implant will pick up neural signals from an undamaged section of the brain and route it around the damaged portion, effectively forming a new neural link that functions as well as the undamaged brain.
The research is expected to take up to four years.
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