The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a US$70 million project to develop an implant to monitor neuronal activity in a bid to improve the mental health of soldiers and veterans. DARPA seeks to develop new technology to enable near real-time measurement and analysis across brain systems to drive precise neural stimulation therapies
DARPA created the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program to pursue advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology that could lead to new clinical understanding of how neuropsychological illnesses manifest in the brain and to advanced therapies to reduce the burden and severity of illness in afflicted troops and veterans. The program will pursue a new investigative approach that establishes the characteristics of distributed neural systems and attempts to develop and apply therapies that incorporate near real-time recording, analysis and stimulation in next-generation devices inspired by current Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).
DBS already exists as a therapy option for certain neurologic and neuropsychological illnesses in patients who are not responsive to other therapies. Approximately 100,000 people around the globe live with a DBS implant, a device that delivers electrical stimulation to reduce the motor impairment caused by Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. These devices are also being studied as therapy for depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s and epilepsy.
There is a high incidence of mental illness among soldiers compared with the general population — in fact, one in nine medical discharges is because of mental illness. This is not surprising — if you ask people to do and see horrific things, it’s going to mess with their heads in pretty significant ways.
DARPA is seeking to understand more about how the brain works in the hope of developing effective therapies for troops and veterans. It has announced a new project called the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS).
DARPA will collate data from volunteers seeking treatment for unrelated neurological disorders as well as clinical research participants to construct models of how the brain behaves both in normal and impaired conditions, with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, borderline personality disorder, general anxiety disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse/addiction and fibromyalgia/chronic pain. It hopes to have its device ready in five years.
“We’re talking about a whole systems approach to the brain, not a disease-by-disease examination of a single process or a subset of processes,” Sanchez said. “SUBNETS is going to be a cross-disciplinary, expansive team effort, and the program will integrate and build upon historical DARPA research investments.”
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