In efforts to improve the mental health of veterans and military soldiers, DARPA has launched a $70 million project to create a brain implant that tracks neuron activity and then provides brain data.
A staggering figure of one in nine medical discharges is due to mental illness, according to US Army statistics. This high incidence of mental illness reported among soldiers compared with the general population is not surprising. If you are going to ask people to see and commit unimaginable horrors, it is going impact them in a massively significant way.
DARPA is seeking to understand more about how the brain works in hopes of developing effective therapies for the military and war veterans. The company has announced a new $70 million project called the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies or Subnets. Subnets is inspired by Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS. This is a surgical treatment that involves implanting a brain pacemaker in the patient’s skull to interfere with brain activity and apparently, assist with symptoms of diseases like Parkinson’s or epilepsy. DARPA’s device will be similar, but rather than targeting one specific symptom, the device should be able to monitor and analyze data in real time and then issue a specific intervention according to the brains activity.
DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said, “If Subnets is successful, it will advance neuropsychiatry beyond the realm of dialogue-driven observations and resultant trial and error and into the realm of therapy driven by quantifiable characteristics of neural state…Subnets is a push toward innovative, informed, and precise neurotechnological therapy to produce major improvements in quality of life for service members and veterans who have very few options with existing therapies. These are patients for whom current medical understanding of diseases like chronic pain or fatigue, unmanageable depression or severe post-traumatic stress disorder can’t provide meaningful relief.”
“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.”
DARPA is collating data from volunteers who are seeking a treatment for unrelated neurological disorders as well as participants of clinical research, to construct models of how the brain behaves in both normal and impaired conditions.
With a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, borderline personality disorder, major depression, general anxiety disorder, substance abuse and fibromyalgia/chronic pain. The company hopes to have its device ready in five years.
[Image via rt]