US military awards $40 million toward memory implant

July 9, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan,
A schematic illustration of the neuromodulation device designed to restore memory to be developed by UCLA RAM team. Credit: UCLA

US military researchers announced Wednesday 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 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.

First tests on epilepsy patients

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 give up to $22.5 million to a team of 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.

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.

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.

Such facts can be difficult to recall when a person has a traumatic brain injury.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day we would like to find solutions for the emotional, social and economic aspects of those injuries," said Sanchez.

"This concept and this vision? Easier said than done," he added.

"There are huge technological challenges and scientific challenges that must be overcome to deliver these kinds of therapies back to our injured military personnel."

In response to concerns that the US military might be seeking to alter or remove the recall of soldiers in combat, Sanchez said DARPA is not doing any research in the area of erasing memories.

Explore further: Brain implants may help the injured who suffer memory loss

Related Stories

Brain implants may help the injured who suffer memory loss

February 11, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Focusing on ways to treat people who have suffered memory loss through head trauma, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to examine possibilities for recovery by means of brain implants. ...

Scientists strengthen memory by stimulating key site in brain

February 8, 2012
Ever gone to the movies and forgotten where you parked the car? New UCLA research may one day help you improve your memory.

Coming soon: A brain implant to restore memory

May 1, 2014
In the next few months, highly secretive US military researchers say they will unveil new advances toward developing a brain implant that could one day restore a wounded soldier's memory.

Neurons in the brain tune into different frequencies for different spatial memory tasks

April 17, 2014
Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists ...

Study results indicate brain structures outside the hippocampus may support face recognition

June 24, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A team of neuroscientists and psychologists with members from several universities in the U.S. has found that people with damage to their hippocampus are still able to recognize faces, even when they cannot ...

Timing mechanisms for memory formation

January 23, 2014
Neuroscientists from the University of Leicester, in collaboration with the Department of Neurosurgery at the University California Los Angeles (UCLA), are to reveal details of how the brain determines the timing at which ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover how brain signals travel to drive language performance

June 21, 2018
Effective verbal communication depends on one's ability to retrieve and select the appropriate words to convey an intended meaning. For many, this process is instinctive, but for someone who has suffered a stroke or another ...

'Antifreeze' molecules may stop and reverse damage from brain injuries

June 21, 2018
The key to better treatments for brain injuries and disease may lie in the molecules charged with preventing the clumping of specific proteins associated with cognitive decline and other neurological problems, researchers ...

Waking up is hard to do: Prefrontal cortex implicated in consciousness

June 21, 2018
Philosophers have pondered the nature of consciousness for thousands of years. In the 21st century, the debate over how the brain gives rise to our everyday experience continues to puzzle scientists. To help, researchers ...

Study on instinctive behaviour elucidates a synaptic mechanism for computing escape decisions

June 21, 2018
How does your brain decide what to do in a threatening situation? A new paper published in Nature describes a mechanism by which the brain classifies the level of a threat and decides when to escape.

Researchers find mechanism behind choosing alcohol over healthy rewards

June 21, 2018
A new study links molecular changes in the brain to behaviours that are central in addiction, such as choosing a drug over alternative rewards. The researchers have developed a method in which rats learn to get an alcohol ...

Scientists discover fundamental rule of brain plasticity

June 21, 2018
Our brains are famously flexible, or "plastic," because neurons can do new things by forging new or stronger connections with other neurons. But if some connections strengthen, neuroscientists have reasoned, neurons must ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

russell_russell
not rated yet Jul 10, 2014
Memories are stored. Cells for the memories must be present where the storage for the memories in these cells took place.

Cells physically no longer present as storage for these memories means an irretrievable state.
Perfect access to an irretrievable state means you will draw a blank.

You can artificially induce new storage in new or undamaged cells - if the code for delivery to these storage sites (DNA inversions) from actually experience (sensory input) is known.

Or you can naturally induce new storage in new or undamaged cells from the delivery of actual experience through intact sensory inputs without knowing the code used for the inputs.

This is forty million dollars of charlatanry.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.