Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Military Is Building Brain Chips to Treat PTSD

Patrick TuckerMay 28, 2014

How well can you predict your next mood swing? How well can anyone? It’s an existential dilemma for many of us but for the military, the ability to treat anxiety, depression, memory loss and the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder has become one of the most important battles of the post-war period.

Now the Pentagon is developing a new, innovative brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers and veterans that could bring sweeping new changes to the way depression and anxiety is treated for millions of Americans.

With $12 million (and the potential for $26 million more if benchmarks are met), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, wants to reach deep into your brain’s soft tissue to record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind. Teams from the University of California at San Francisco, Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Medtronic will use the money to create a cybernetic implant with electrodes extending into the brain. The military hopes to have a prototype within 5 years and then plans to seekFDA approval.

DARPA’s Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies, or SUBNETs, program draws from almost a decade of research in treating disorders such as Parkinson’s disease via a technique called deep brain stimulation. Low doses of electricity are sent deep into the brain in somewhat the same way that a defibrillator sends electricity to jumpstart a heart after cardiac arrest.

While it sounds high-tech, it’s a crude example of what’s possible with future brain-machine interaction and cybernetic implants in the decades ahead.

DARPA is looking for ways to characterize which regions come into play for different conditions – measured from brain networks down to the single neuron level – and develop therapeutic devices that can record activity, deliver targeted stimulation, and most importantly, automatically adjust therapy as the brain itself changes,” DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said....

“With existing technology, we can’t really record anxiety level inside the brain. We can potentially record adrenaline and cortisol levels in the bloodstream to measure anxiety. However, if a deep brain implant is to be used (as proposed in this project), it might be possible to monitor activity in the amygdala, and this would be a direct way of monitoring anxiety,” said Higgins.

Using that data, the researchers hope to create models and maps to allow for a more precise understanding of the electrical patterns in the brain that signal anxiety, memory loss and depression. The data from devices, when they come online, will be made available to the public but will be rendered anonymous, so records of an individual test subject’s brain activity could not be traced back to a specific person.

In short, researchers will soon know much more about what causes anxiety and mood swings and will be able to predict those transitions in specific patients at specific times,. They could then treat depression or anxiety, remotely via a device that pushes the brain to establish new circuits and areas outside of the traumatized regions. It may improve your mood in the future, even the thought of it is a bit distressing today.

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/05/D1-Tucker-military-building-brain-chips-treat-ptsd/85360/

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