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If you could have a chip implanted in your brain that relieved depression or PTSD symptoms, would you consider it?
In the not too distant future, people may have this option. Research into symptom relieving wireless devices is being done at Massachusetts General Hospital, funded by DARPA, or the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
This research targets the problems of many returning veterans such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, and substance abuse.
Unlike current open-loop deep brain stimulation devices (DBS), often used to halt the tremors of Parkinson’s disease, the new smart implants are closed-loop systems.
To create a closed-loop device, researchers are investigating patterns of electrical activity in specific brain areas and associating these patterns with human behaviors and expressions. The device will function by modulating any patterns that lead to symptomatic behavior and expression—effectively relieving the symptom.
As you might imagine, linking neural patterns with specific moods and behavior requires an abundance of data. This is being collected by the psychiatrists and neurosurgeons at Massachusetts General who treat hundreds of individuals with neurological and mood problems.
The new devices, or smart implants, having less power than an iPhone, will need to function 24/7. The current prototype is a “hub-and-spoke design” about the size of a matchbox.
The device is implanted just beneath the scalp. Its hub contains a microprocessor, and a battery that recharges through the skin. Five satellite electrodes monitor and modulate neurological activity in relevant parts of the brain. The implant communicates its data to a base station.
Human trials with smart implants will begin in three to four years, and the initial candidates will likely be veterans whose symptoms have not responded to medication and psychotherapy. Eventually, smart implants will be an option for civilians with stubborn mental health symptoms as well.
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