DOD awards $40M for wireless implant for memory loss due to brain injury

Soon, there will be a device to cure some forgetfulness if the Department of Defense's four-year grant of up to $40 million succeeds in fostering implants and electronic interfaces that diagnose and treat memory loss due to traumatic brain injury.

"This is just not cocktail party talk," Geoffrey Ling, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency biological technologies office, said in a conference call with reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We have so much hope that this new program is going to do wonderful things to restore our injured service members."

The initial focus of the Restoring Active Memory initiative will be on developing computational models that describe how neurons process new information. Researchers will study techniques to treat injured brains and help them process new memories once again in an attempt to develop targeted neural stimulation, the release says.  

The University of California, Los Angeles, will receive up to $15 million to develop and implant a wireless neuromodulation device 10 times smaller than currently available and implant it into the brain's hippocampus and entorhinal area (the entrance to the hippocampus, it plays a crucial in encoding new memories), the release says. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, will help develop the neurological implant and received up to $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, the University of Pennsylvania will receive up to $22.5 million to develop a neural stimulation and monitoring system in partnership with Medtronic ($MDT), maker of a variety of neuromodulation products, including Deep Brain Stimulation Therapy for Parkinson's. The researchers will record the neural activity of neurosurgical patients who play computer-based memory games and have electrodes implanted in different parts of their brain, says the release.

"We owe it to our servicemembers to accelerate research that can minimize the long-term impacts of their injuries," Sanchez said in the release. "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."

Traumatic brain injury affects more than 270,000 military service members and 1.7 million U.S. civilians per year, DARPA says, adding that there are no effective therapies to combat its effect on memory. 

The initiative is part of President Obama's broader, $110 million BRAIN initiative. Earlier this year the program awarded up to $26 million to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, to develop mini brain implants to treat Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. A National Institutes of Health advisory committee has recommended that funding for the brain research initiative be quadrupled to $4.5 billion spread over the next decade.

"We don't have the Rosetta Stone for the memory system," said Michael Kahana, the director of UPenn's computational memory lab and a lead investigator on the project in the Los Angeles Times. "The DARPA project is trying to dramatically accelerate that effort to decipher that Rosetta Stone. We're poised to do it. With this multisite effort, we might just be able to pull it off."

- read the release
- read the LA Times story

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