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DARPA developing memory-restoring neural prosthesis

An implantable brain chip currently in development could help wounded veterans recover memory function after traumatic brain injuries.


Last year, researchers successfully managed to design and implement a brain implant that acted as a bypass for damaged brain tissue. This neural prosthesis successfully restored brain function in rats, demonstrating that the closed-loop brain-machine-brain interface could one day perform the same function in brain-damaged humans.

And it may occur soon, with DARPA taking up the reins to fund research on just such a device. Called the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, conducted by the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania, it is being developed in the hope of restoring memory function in veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Currently, over 270,000 military service members since 2000 and an estimated 1.7 million civilians in the US are affected by TBI, which often manifests as an inability to retrieve memories formed before being injured and an impaired ability to form new memories. There are also no effective treatments available.

The teams will first develop computer models that describe how neurons code memories, as well as analysing neural signals in order to understand how targeted stimulation might help restore the brain's ability to form memories.

The UCLA team will use data collected from epilepsy patients that already have electrodes implanted in their brains to develop a model of the hippocampal-entorhinal system -- known to be involved in learning and memory.

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.

Like the 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. You can read about it in greater detail on the DARPA website.