The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Pentagon are in the process of seeking ways to treat memory loss especially as it concerns soldiers wounded in war by way of brain implants. DARPA wants soldiers who suffered brain injuries to have the ability to recover “task-based motor skills” like driving cars, operating machinery, tying shoe laces or even flying planes. Based on the records of the Pentagon, there are more than 280,000 soldiers who have suffered brain injuries in the course of their combat duties especially those who were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to DARPA’s physician and deputy director of the agency’s Defense Sciences office, Geoff Ling, the project is basically aimed at helping wounded veterans; however this neuro-engineering research can also help senior citizens who suffer from dementia or athletes who suffered similar brain injuries.
The project calls for developing a portable and wireless device with “implantable probes” that has the ability to record and stimulate brain activities. Currently, Medtronic Inc. a medical device company is already selling implants used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. The Medtronic device which is surgically implanted consists of thin wires that can carry signals to electrodes in order to stimulate the brain. This requires implanting wires inside the brain while some wires are placed under the scalp. The device’s electrical impulses are powered by a product placed under the skin of the chest area.
President Barack Obama is also pushing this project through the BRAIN initiative by funding research works involved in finding treatments for brain disorders like Alzheimer’s as well as brain injuries. According to federal health data, there are 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with memory loss annually and this is affecting the economy with a cost of $76 billion per year. Based on the Department of Veterans Affairs data, an estimated $4.2 billion will be needed from fiscal years 2013 to 2022 just to care for soldiers with brain injuries.
According to the chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, Andres Lozano, “This [research initiative] has tremendous value from a basic science aspect. It may have huge implications for patients with disorders affecting memory, including those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The Pentagon has already solicited research proposals from organizations and companies with the end objective of stimulating brain tissues to help recover lost memories due to brain injuries. According to Art Caplan, an occasional DARPA adviser and medical ethics director at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, it is expected that companies like International Business Machines (IBM), General Electric Co. (GE) and Medtronic will soon pitch in and submit their research proposals.
DARPA, established in 1958, has a long history of initiating projects that eventually led to commercial success. One such work is contributing to the creation of the Internet as well as helping develop stealth fighter jets. Right now, DARPA is in the process of perfecting the robotic pack mules which are designed to carry gears in the field. The research agency is also in the process of developing the “geckskin” that will allow soldiers to scale walls like a lizard and bodysuits meant to help soldiers be less prone to injuries, fatigue and overall help them to be stronger.
DARPA and The Pentagon are now in the process of starting a new project meant to solve the problem of memory loss by soldiers who suffered brain injuries. And based on research designs this will be accomplished through brain implants.
By Roberto I. Belda