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DARPA Awards $40 Million to UCLA, Penn to Develop Memory Implants

Jul 09, 2014 07:23 AM EDT
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DARPA has awarded $40 million towards memory restoration technologies aimed at helping military service people cope with brain injuries.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said that the new Restoring Active Memory (RAM) will help design and "develop wireless, fully implantable neural-interface medical devices that can serve as 'neuroprosthetics'"

In a statement released Wednesday, the U.S military agency said that University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), will each head a team of scientists. Researchers will try to develop electronic implants that can find memory lapses in the brain and restore them. Under the agreement, UCLA will get up to $15 million and Penn will receive up to $22.5 million over four years. The teams will receive full funding contingent on completing specific milestones in the project.

In addition, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will get $2.5 million to develop an implantable device for the UCLA-led project.

The memory-restoring devices are being developed to help men and women who have fought wars overseas and have suffered brain damage due to traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

About 270,000 military servicemembers since 2000 and an estimated 1.7 million U.S. civilians each year are affected by TBI. People with TBI often lose memory of events before the accident and are unable to store long-term memories.

"We owe it to our servicemembers to accelerate research that can minimize the long-term impacts of their injuries," said DARPA Program Manager Justin Sanchez.

"The start of the Restoring Active Memory program marks an exciting opportunity to reveal many new aspects of human memory and learn about the brain in ways that were never before possible," said Sanchez in a news release. "Anyone who has witnessed the effects of memory loss in another person knows its toll and how few options are available to treat it. We're going to apply the knowledge and understanding gained in RAM to develop new options for treatment through technology."

DARPA said that it is consulting neuroscientists to weigh in on the ethical aspect of fitting people with memory devices, AFP reported.

The memory implants will be tested on epilepsy patients who have poor memory due to their condition before being used in ex-military service members. 

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