Neural Implant To Treat Memory Loss

DARPA has awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) up to $2.5 million to develop an implantable neural device with the ability to record and stimulate neurons within the brain to help restore memory.

Memory is a process in which neurons in certain regions of the brain encode information, store it and retrieve it. Certain types of illnesses and injuries, including Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy, disrupt this process and cause memory loss.

(Neural Implant video )

The goal of LLNL's work -- driven by LLNL's Neural Technology group and undertaken in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Medtronic -- is to develop a device that uses real-time recording and closed-loop stimulation of neural tissues to bridge gaps in the injured brain and restore individuals' ability to form new memories and access previously formed ones.

The research is funded by DARPA's Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program.

Specifically, the Neural Technology group will seek to develop a neuromodulation system -- a sophisticated electronics system to modulate neurons -- that will investigate areas of the brain associated with memory to understand how new memories are formed. The device will be developed at LLNL's Center for Bioengineering.

"Currently, there is no effective treatment for memory loss resulting from conditions like TBI," said LLNL's project leader Satinderpall Pannu, director of the LLNL's Center for Bioengineering, a unique facility dedicated to fabricating biocompatible neural interfaces. "This is a tremendous opportunity from DARPA to leverage Lawrence Livermore's advanced capabilities to develop cutting-edge medical devices that will change the health care landscape."

LLNL will develop a miniature, wireless and chronically implantable neural device that will incorporate both single neuron and local field potential recordings into a closed-loop system to implant into TBI patients' brains. The device -- implanted into the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus -- will allow for stimulation and recording from 64 channels located on a pair of high-density electrode arrays. The entorhinal cortex and hippocampus are regions of the brain associated with memory.

The arrays will connect to an implantable electronics package capable of wireless data and power telemetry. An external electronic system worn around the ear will store digital information associated with memory storage and retrieval and provide power telemetry to the implantable package using a custom RF-coil system.

Fans of science fiction are stimulated to remember the memory biochip from Lois McMaster Bujold's 1986 novel Shards of Honor, although it's not quite the same, obviously.

The idea of moving a person's mind into some sort of receptacle has been kicking around in the minds of science fiction writers for some time. Recently, sf fans enjoyed Richard Morgan's view of this idea; see this article on cortical stacks which regularly update the person and his experiences and memories in a remote storage facility. As I recall, there were hardened military versions, as well.

Via RESTORING ACTIVE MEMORY (RAM) and DARPA taps Lawrence Livermore to develop world's first neural device to restore memory.

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