Treating trauma: Brain prosthetics to bridge memory gaps

A new program from the USA’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will explore neuroprosthetics technology to combat the effects of traumatic brain injuries.

The Restoring Active Memory (RAM) project, led by teams at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania, is developing wireless brain implants that can sense gaps in memory and bridge them.

The goal of RAM is to restore brain function for both the ability to create new memories and to remember old ones. Currently, there are no treatments for long-term restoration of brain function for patients with traumatic brain injuries.

“Anyone who has witnessed the effects of memory loss in another person knows its toll and how few options are available to treat it,” said Justin Sanchez, manager of the DARPA program. “We’re going to apply the knowledge and understanding gained in RAM to develop new options for treatment through technology.”

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Researchers will test how a healthy brain functions using electrodes, focusing on the part of the brain called the entorhinal area, which encodes everyday events into long-term memories.

After developing the device through computer modelling and new methods of brain stimulation, it will be implanted into the entorhinal area to test its potential to restore memories.

This electronic treatment could benefit a wide range of people. Though it is targeted at the 270,000 US servicemembers with injury-related brain impairments, 1.7 million US civilians also suffer from memory loss due to traumatic brain injuries and could use neuroprosthetics to function normally.

“We owe it to our service members to accelerate research that can minimise the long-term impacts of their injuries,” Sanchez stated.

“Despite increasingly aggressive prevention efforts, traumatic brain injury remains a serious problem in military and civilian sectors. Through the Restoring Active Memory program, DARPA aims to better understand the underlying neurological basis of memory loss and speed the development of innovative therapies.”

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The study will also be useful in studying other brain conditions. Beyond brain dysfunction from injuries, RAM has the potential to reveal new data about the formation and recall of memories that could shed light on many different neuropsychological diseases.

RAM could even be synthesised with other research projects currently making headlines.

Once fully developed and refined, perhaps DARPA’s neuroprosthetics technology could be combined with recent research on new light-based brain control techniques to create a treatment that is fully effective but noninvasive, as surgical implantation can be challenging.


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