Brain Implants to Restore Mental Function in Wounded Soldiers

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, serves as the top research and development agency for the United States Department of Defense.  While some of the technology they develop is created to win wars, a great deal of it is also devoted to those who have fought and come home injured.  DARPA works in conjunction with many companies who specialize in the latest and greatest prosthetic limbs, as well as many other devices to help soldiers with physical disabilities.  Now, they’re working on devices that can help with an injured brain as well.

With traumatic brain injuries affecting one fifth of the soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, DARPA’s developers have started research projects that utilize optogenetic brain implants that will hopefully be able to control brain cells with pulses of light.  This, in turn, would essentially reroute brain activity.  Despite having damaged areas, a brain fitted with these implants would work normally, in theory.  The implants would monitor signals sent between neurons in the brain and send out light pulses to stimulate other parts of the brain.

DARPA is working on this project in conjunction with Stanford and Brown university with a total grant of about 15 million dollars.  The project will first focus on the brains of mice and rats, and then eventually monkeys.

While the notion of brain control may seem a little scary, the more we learn about how the brain functions, the better.  DARPA hopes that implants like this one will one day be able to tell the brain how to control a prosthetic limb with greater dexterity, hopefully closing the gap between wounded soldier and machine and allowing them to continue leading normal lives.  For soldiers who only experience brain injuries, a system like this may very well erase all negative effects entirely.

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