The DOD wants a memory-restoring brain implant, a potential device industry boon

The U.S. Department of Defense is pursuing the creation of brain implants that could treat brain injury-related memory loss, an initiative that could benefit companies ranging from Medtronic ($MDT) to General Electric ($GE) and more.

Bloomberg reports on the early-stage project, which comes out of the DOD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. According to the article, the initial focus is on finding ways to treat the 280,000-plus veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have suffered brain injuries during combat. Geoff Ling, deputy director of DARPA's Defense Sciences office, told Bloomberg that the early-stage work may also have other benefits such as treating athletes with brain injury or seniors with dementia. But the early hope, he said, is to come up with a device that could address brain injury-related memory loss after years of failing to come up with a drug to accomplish the same goal.

DARPA said the device it envisions must be both portable and wireless, with implantable probes that help to stimulate brain activity, the story explained. Such a device would hopefully help patients remember motor skills such as driving, and how to tie their shoes, Ling told the news agency.

This latest project is part of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-spearheaded initiative designed to better understand the brain and figure out new ways to treat neurological disorders. Separately, the DOD launched a $70 million project last fall focused on developing a brain-monitoring implant to help soldiers better manage stress, depression and other related conditions. 

As Bloomberg noted, the brain-implant memory project could benefit companies such as Medtronic, which already markets brain implants to treat symptoms of conditions such as Parkinson's disease, giving them access to the raw material to expand the project's brain implant research into new areas. But rivals St. Jude Medical ($STJ) and Boston Scientific ($BSX) are also in a similar space as Medtronic's and have European approval for their devices. An outside expert also told Bloomberg that companies such as General Electric (which has a patient-monitoring business in its healthcare arm) and even IBM might dive into the project.

This is all early-stage work that may be years from the clinic. But DOD research sparks company R&D, and the end result could give the market something new.

- read the Bloomberg story
- here's the government posting

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