Published: FEBRUARY 13, 2014
DARPA Continues To Push “Black Box” Brain Chip
Pentagon wants to “help” soldiers and seniors by implanting devices to trigger memories
February 10, 2014
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the military, is continuing to develop implantable brain chips, according to documents newly posted as part of the agency’s increased “transparency” policy.
The agency is seeking to develop a portable, wireless device that “must incorporate implantable probes” to record and stimulate brain activity – in effect, a memory triggering ‘black box’ device.
The process would entail placing wires inside the brain, and under the scalp, with electrical impulses fired up through a transmitter placed under the skin of the chest area.
Bloomberg first picked up the story last week, and since then several tech blogs have jumped on board, describing the technological push as part of a project to help injured soldiers, and part an initiative set up by the Obama administration to find treatments for brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
In reality, this project has been ongoing for years, decades in fact. And given that the Pentagon war machine is spear-heading it, with $70m of funding, one must seriously question why the DoD suddenly gives a damn about war wounded vets, never mind everyday Americans with brain disorders.
Brain Implants Hold Promise Restoring Combat Memory Loss
By Kathleen Miller | Feb 7, 2014 11:31 AM ET | Bloomberg
Pentagon is exploring the development of implantable probes that may one day help reverse some memory loss caused by brain injury.
The goal of the project, still in early stages, is to treat some of the more than 280,000 troops who have suffered brain injuries since 2000, including in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is focused on wounded veterans, though some research may benefit others such as seniors with dementia or athletes with brain injuries, said Geoff Ling, a physician and deputy director of Darpa’s Defense Sciences office. It’s still far from certain that such work will result in an anti-memory-loss device. Still, word of the project is creating excitement after more than a decade of failed attempts to develop drugs to treat brain injury and memory loss.
“The way human memory works is one of the great unsolved mysteries,” said Andres Lozano, chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto. “This has tremendous value from a basic science aspect. It may have huge implications for patients with disorders affecting memory, including those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
At least 1.7 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with memory loss each year, costing the nation’s economy more than $76 billion annually, according to the most recent federal health data. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates it will spend $4.2 billion to care for former troops with brain injuries between fiscal 2013 and 2022.
Medtronic Inc. (MDT) already sells implants used in deep brain stimulation treatment to reduce some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. Now, Darpa officials hope to build on neuroengineering advances, such as one that helped people with limited motor functions communicate with a device, according to agency documents posted online.
The Pentagon has sought research proposals from companies and organizations, asking for ideas on stimulating brain tissue to help restore memory. If the research pans out, it may attract interest from companies including General Electric Co. (GE) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) as well as Medtronic, said Art Caplan, medical ethics director at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and an occasional Darpa adviser.
Federal health regulators have already authorized Medtronic’s implant for sale in the U.S. St. Jude Medical Inc. (STJ), based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Boston Scientific Corp. (BSX), based in Natick, Massachusetts, sell similar devices overseas and are seeking U.S. approval.