Scientists are working on a new implantable device that can help to reprogram the brain and stop diseases.
The intention is to use the technology to help service members and veterans affected by conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder through deep brain stimulation technology.
Work on a programme to make this a reality has now started by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) – and has been called SUBNETS.
The group will create an implantable device that is small enough to fit between the scalp and skull and which target regions of the brain involved in a person’s psychiatric or neurological disease.
It will then use recording, stimulation and therapeutic techniques to try and rehabilitate and free the person from their symptoms.
The scientists hope to take advantage of neural plasticity, a feature of the brain by which the organ’s anatomy and physiology can alter over time to support normal brain function.
The research will be conducted over the next five years and will form the basis on an application to the US Food and Drugs Association for the device to be used medically.
If the technology is successful and adopted commercially then it could be used to help treat a wide range of neurological diseases.
This could significantly improve the lives of those who have suffered not only in combat situations but also through other conditions.
The device could help to transform neurological treatment and give doctors new tools to treat patients that were otherwise out of their remit.
It could also lead to more targeted treatments for psychiatric disease and advance clinicians’ ability to make accurate diagnoses.
Justin Sanchez, the Darpa programme manager for SUBNETS, said that the project could help to transform the lives of those who do not respond to other therapies.
He said: “The brain is very different from all other organs because of its networking and adaptability. Real-time, closed-loop neural interfaces allow us to move beyond the traditional static view of the brain and into a realm of precision therapy.
“This lack of understanding of how mental illness specifically manifests in the brain has limited the effectiveness of existing treatment options, but through SUBNETS we hope to change that.
“Darpa is looking for ways to characterize which regions come into play for different conditions—measured from brain networks down to the single neuron level—and develop therapeutic devices that can record activity, deliver targeted stimulation, and most importantly, automatically adjust therapy as the brain itself changes.”
Images two and three courtesy of Darpa