Many people around the world suffer from problems in recalling, forming, and retrieving memories, especially after suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the U.S. alone it’s thought that around 1.7 million civilians will be diagnosed with TBI each year. In addition to that, it’s estimated that around 300,000 soldiers have also suffered such injuries since 2000. In light of this, the U.S. military has poured a substantial amount of resources into finding a way to ease these problems, setting up the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program.
The aims are twofold: develop detailed, high resolution computer models that will be able to describe how neurons form and recall memories, and then develop a “wireless, fully implantable neural-interface medical device” that will bypass the gap in the flow of information caused by brain injury. This system, they hope, will allow for the targeted stimulation of brain cells and eventually the restoration of memory function.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same group that developed the eerie BigDog robotic pack mule, have invested heavily in this technology and research examining the intricacies of the human brain. Backed by Obama, in 2013 they launched the BRAIN initiative which aims to figure out how “individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of light.” This, they hope, will then allow for the development of new ways to treat, cure, and prevent brain disorders.
In addition to new treatments, it has also led to the development of incredible technologies. They have been able not only to allow patients to control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts, but have even been able to get one person who has been paralyzed for over a decade to “feel” physical touch again. In September, as part of the RAM program, DARPA announced that they had already tested out brain implants in people suffering from brain injuries in the hope to help improve their memories.
It is hoped that this new research and development will be able to be used not just within a military context, but also in the wider community for all people who have suffered a serious brain injury. According to Obama, it is this sort of research which will lead to future progress and produce the best treatments for those in need: “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”