WASHINGTON: 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.