BY MAD SCIENTIST · MAY 29, 2014
The U.S. Military and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are funding a brain implant program to help Veterans with PTSD. The project sounds fascinating, but the real question is, can we trust the military and DARPA this time around? DARPA plays a huge role in the Obama initiative to explore the human brain. DARPA also takes part in anything from missile defense programs to interstellar travel projects.
The $70 million experiment
The $70 million 5-year experiment funded by DARPA involves finding new ways to help with neuropsychiatric conditions by implanting electronic devices deep into the brain. They are focusing on conditions that are common amongst veterans such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They also plan on experimenting with chronic pain and traumatic brain injury later down the road.
The problem is, there aren’t a whole lot of very effective ways to manage these conditions long-term with conventional medicine. Anxiety medications can be effective in the short term, but they can also be some of the most addictive medications that exist. In a previous article, we illustrated that anti-depressants haven’t proven to be very effective, but they are somewhat effective for major depression. Anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers are quite a bit more effective for many with PTSD, but they don’t work for all, and these drugs often carry a long list of dangerous short and long-term side effects.
“We’ve seen far too many times where military personnel have neuropsychiatric disorders and there’s very few options,” stated Justin Sanchez, a program manager at DARPA.
The brain implant
The high tech electronic brain implants will be able to both monitor and stimulate brain neurons and neural networks. $26 million of the $70 million was granted to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and much of the effort will be led by UCSF scientists.
Brain stimulation devices are nothing new. They are currently used in managing Parkinson’s disease. However, given that these implants can monitor as well as stimulate, the devices from the DARPA brain implant program will be much more sophisticated.
The UCSF doctors will begin their studies by utilizing subjects that already have probes implanted in their brain for treatment of Parkinson’s or Epilepsy.
Eddie Chang, a neurosurgeon at UCSF states that this will allow researchers to “record directly from the brain at a level of resolution that’s never [been] done before.”
Researchers will be able to monitor the electrical activity of brain cells in real time. This should help to figure out what going awry in the brain’s neural network in anxiety, depression, and other neuropsychiatric problems. Ultimately, these clues will help in the design of these devices by knowing what parts of the brain need stimulation. Ultimately, the right kind of stimulation can help heal faulty neural pathways.
Neuropsychiatric disorders need better treatment, but do you think advanced brain stimulation will be the answer? Should we really trust The U.S. Government, The U.S. Military and DARPA to ethically carry out mind experiments given what they have done in the past? Let us know what you think.