An estimated 10 to 20 percent of troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, which afflict 1.7 million Americans each year. Now the Pentagon’s rolling out a revolutionary initiative to treat the condition: brain implants that one researcher likens to “replacement parts” for damaged gray matter.
“When something happens to the brain right now, there’s so little that the medical community can do,” Krishna Shenoy, associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at Stanford University, told Danger Room. “Our goal is to understand — and then be able to change — how a brain responds to trauma.”
No surprise that military extreme science agency Darpa is behind the project, which is called REPAIR, or Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery. Yesterday, they announced an initial two-year round of $14.9 million in funding for four institutions, led by Stanford and Brown universities, that will collaborate on the brain-chip project. All in, it’ll involve 10 professors and their research teams, working in neuroscience, psychiatry, brain modeling and even semiconductors.
Significant progress has already been made in understanding brain injury. Scientists can create conceptual, mathematical models of brain activity, and are also able to record the electrical pulses emitted by individual neurons in the brain, which offers insight into how those neurons communicate. That knowledge has spurred rapid progress in neural-assisted prosthetic devices, a program that Shenoy collaborated on with Geoffrey Ling, the same Darpa program manager behind REPAIR.