In the 1980s, sci-fi prophet William Gibson coined the term cyberspace. He also forewarned of brain microchips in the year 2021. It turns out we won’t have to wait that long, because a team of American neuroscientists are one step ahead, turning science fiction into science fact. With their Restoring Active Memory Program, DARPA is fusing technology, medicine, computing and engineering to make a sophisticated implantable microchip that will bridge gaps in injured brains.
Few effective therapies currently exist to mitigate the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on memory. Through the RAM program, Dr Justin Sanchez and DARPA seek to accelerate the development of technology able to address the challenge of TBI, which frequently results in an impaired ability to retrieve and form new memories: “Our vision is to develop neuroprosthetics for memory recovery in patients living with brain injury and dysfunction,” he says. “Service members have paid the ultimate price in service of our nation, so it is our great responsibility to try to come up with new and innovative not only scientific, but medical approaches that can help repay some of that debt.”
The brain implant communicates from a wireless device worn on the user’s ear that houses data storage and retrieval components. The implant resides within the brain to directly read data from and stimulate neurons. Electrode stimulation will focus on the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories evolve. Tests have shown that this helps lessen epileptic seizures, reduce tremors in Parkinsons’ patients and boosts memories in Alzheimer’s sufferers, making way for the first memory restoration implants to happen as soon as 2017.
Dr Justin Sanchez, Program Manager, DARPA