The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced this week researchers will be working on an implantable brain chip that could restore memory.
DARPA officials' first plans for the chip will be to help wounded soldiers recovering from traumatic brain injuries.
The neural prosthesis will be developed by scientists from the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania, who are slated to receive assistance from neural technology experts at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, as well as brain-simulating technology companies Medtronic Inc. and Neurospace Inc., according to the Los Angeles Times.
"This is just not cocktail party talk," Geoffrey King, director of DARPA's biological technologies office, said in a conference call. "We have so much hope that this new program is going to do wonderful things to restore our injured service members."
As part of the research program called Restoring Active Memory (RAM), the teams of scientists will create computer models that show how neurons code memories. The teams will then study neural signals to figure out how they can use targeted simulation to help the brain form memories again, CNET reported.
A UCLA team will collect data from patients with Epilepsy using implanted brain electrodes, which are intended to develop a model of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores memory. The Penn team, meanwhile, will analyze neurological patients with implanted brain electrodes and record data while the patients play computer-based memory games. The latter group will be looking to understand how memory can function successfully.
The patients for the program will be volunteers, and the teams are looking to combine these models into closed-loop systems that can be implanted in the brain. Implants will be designed to transfer neural signals from the undamaged parts of the brain to damaged parts, which will create a new neural link to help the damaged areas function as well as the undamaged areas, CNET reported.
Both institutions will receive funding for RAM, with UCLA set to receive $15 million and the University of Pennsylvania set to receive $22.5 million. The teams will spend the next four years working on the project.