November 25, 2015

DARPA improving memory with brain implants

Volunteers who got electrical arrays implanted in their brains are seeing improvements in their memory, DARPA said. The project, called Restoring Active Memory (RAM), could help people suffering from traumatic brain injury. People who were undergoing brain surgery and volunteered to get electrode implants saw improvement in their scores on memory tests, DARPA said. They received small electrode arrays placed in brain regions involved in the formation of declarative memory, according to DARPA. That’s the type of memory we use to remember lists, as well as spatial memory, according to the agency.

Researchers were able to capture signals coming from the brain during the process of memory formation and recall. The goal is to improve memory by using targeted electrical stimulation, which could help people with memory problems — including those with traumatic brain injuries

In another study, a 28-year-old man who was paralyzed more than a decade ago became the first person to “feel” physical touch through a prosthetic hand.

This is part of the $300 Million in Funding for The White House BRAIN Initiative

Promising preliminary results also are coming out from DARPA’s Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program, Sanchez noted, which aims to provide relief for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and other neuropsychiatric conditions.

Just one year into the SUBNETS effort, engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Draper Laboratory have produced customized electrode arrays and miniaturized neural interface hardware, prototypes of which are on display at this week’s Wait, What? event in St. Louis. The prototypes include microfabricated electrode arrays that are flexible and can interface with large numbers of neurons; fully implantable hardware to amplify and interpret brain signals; and new circuitry to deliver precise, function-restoring feedback to the brain.

In the first clinical tests of some of these technologies, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, placed arrays on the brains of seven patients and, by providing electrical impulses to a specific neuronal region, markedly reduced the patients’ anxiety levels.

“As the technology of these fully implantable devices improves, and as we learn more about how to stimulate the brain ever more precisely to achieve the most therapeutic effects, I believe we are going to gain a critical capacity to help our wounded warriors and others who today suffer from intractable neurological problems,” Sanchez said. “It is a very complex and challenging frontier, but one I am convinced we will learn to navigate and leverage to good effect in people who today have no effective therapeutic options.”

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