US military awards USD 40 million toward memory implant

US military researchers announced today they have awarded USD 40 million toward developing a new kind of brain implant that may help restore memories in wounded soldiers and civilians.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 09, 2014, 11:33 AM IST

Washington: US military researchers announced today they have awarded USD 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 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said.

The hope is that some day, a wireless, implantable device will bridge gaps in the injured brain and make it easier to remember basic events, places, and context known as declarative memories.

This kind of recall can be lost in traumatic brain injury, which has affected 270,00 US military service people since 2000 and touches 1.7 million US civilians each year.

"Our vision is to develop neuroprosthetics for memory recovery in patients living with brain injury and dysfunction," said Justin Sanchez, program manager of the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program at DARPA.

"Those service members have paid the ultimate price in service of our nation, so it our great responsibility to try to come up with new and innovative not only scientific but medical approaches that can help repay some of that debt," said Sanchez.

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.

"It is risky, which is very typical of DARPA," said Geoffrey Ling, director of DARPA`s Biological Technologies Office.

The work is part of a four-year program that supports President Barack Obama`s Brain Initiative, a USD 100 million effort.

The latest DARPA awards give up to $22.5 million to a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, up to USD 15 million the University of California, Los Angeles, and USD 2.5 million to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Medtronic, the medical device technology company, was to contribute with a "cost-sharing effort," said Sanchez, but details on that were not immediately available.

Any new neuroprosthetic device will be first tested on patients with epilepsy who have also suffered memory loss as a result of their condition and who are already implanted with electrodes as part of their treatment, researchers said.
The latest DARPA awards give up to $22.5 million to a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, up to USD 15 million the University of California, Los Angeles, and USD 2.5 million to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Medtronic, the medical device technology company, was to contribute with a "cost-sharing effort," said Sanchez, but details on that were not immediately available.

Any new neuroprosthetic device will be first tested on patients with epilepsy who have also suffered memory loss as a result of their condition and who are already implanted with electrodes as part of their treatment, researchers said.