Nov 212013

. . .  to develop a new implant that can track, and respond to, brain signals in real time.

I get a little nervous when it’s the War Industry doing this.

We’re talking about a whole systems approach to the brain, . . .

The high-lighted (pink) paragraph below explains the “why”.

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $70 million to develop a new implant that can track, and respond to, brain signals in real time.

The goal of the new project, dubbed “Systems-Based  Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies” (SUBNETS), is to gather  new information via more advanced brain implants in order to  reach the next level of effective neuropsychological treatment.  DARPA is hoping to have the new implant developed within five  years.

Already, roughly 100,000 people worldwide live with a Deep Brain  Stimulation implant, a device that helps patients cope with  Parkinsons disease. While scientists are currently studying the  possibility of using these devices to combat other diseases, the  problem is current technology can only treat symptoms, not record  the brain’s signals or analyze the effectiveness of any  administered treatment.

“There is no technology that can acquire signals that can tell  [scientists] precisely what is going on with the brain,”Justin Sanchez, DARPA’s program manager, told the New York Times.

The SUBNETS  program intends to change the current landscape  significantly. Not only does DARPA want to map out exactly how  diseases establish themselves in an individuals brain, the agency  also wants its implant to be able to record the signs of illness  in real time, deliver treatments, and monitor the treatment’s  effectiveness.

  Considering the toll that mental illnesses are taking on military  veterans, there’s a new level of urgency surrounding the  ambitious initiative. Ten percent of service members receiving  treatment from the Veteran’s Health Administration are being  treated for mental health conditions or substance abuse, and  mental disorders are now the primary reason for hospital bed  stays.

“If SUBNETS is successful, it will advance neuropsychiatry  beyond the realm of dialogue-driven observations and resultant  trial and error into the real of therapy driven by quantifiable  characteristic of neural state,” Sanchez said on DARPA’s  website. “SUBNETS is a push toward innovative, informed and  precise neurotechnological therapy to produce major improvements  in quality of life for servicemembers and veterans who have very  few options with existing therapies.”

The new project is part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative,  which sets aside $100 million in its first year to develop new  innovations in neuroscience. DARPA is collaborating with the  National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation  on SUBNETS, and it is currently soliciting proposals from various  research teams.

Whether the agency can actually achieve its goal in five years is  a question mark – one neuroscientist told the New York Times  that, like nearly all DARPA projects, it’s “overambitious” – but  new discoveries concerning how the brain functions are expected  regardless. Whether the implant itself becomes a reality or not,  Sanchez said that new medical devices will be developed as a  result.

“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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