Reading brain signals in real-time part of new DARPA technology

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced that the agency's latest project does not involve artificially intelligent robots or advanced flight software, but instead focuses on mental health research through advanced technology.

DARPA is most well-known for its future technology research, often called "moonshot initiatives" into various technologies that can revolutionize warfare and national defense. Occasionally, however, the agency turns in a different direction, often with smaller projects aimed towards improving existing technology or aiding it in some way.

Identifying brain triggers

A new $70 million project at DARPA will focus on reading brain waves in real time through an implant in a patient. While the idea has some implications beyond medical, its most compelling use – and the one DARPA is seeking – is in treating mental health issues by finding and giving immediate data on what they do in the brain, physically, that can be indicators of triggers, reactions or defects that cause the issue.

The technology would also have implications in treatment options, from auto-dosing machines that react to the trigger event to brain wave reaction technology that dampens or reverses the negative reaction in the brain during mental episodes.

A possible treatment for veterans

The project has hundreds of possibilities if DARPA can pull it off and would be a huge step forward in one of the Department of Defense's long-term problems: the mental health issues of veterans and active duty soldiers. The Veteran's Administration, a part of the DOD, says that today, the leading cause of soldiers' hospital stays isn't physical injuries, but mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

The focus of the research is on a continuation of deep brain stimulation technology, which is currently used for Parkinson's treatments, and the possibility of expanding the treatment to other mental conditions that may benefit. Because the technology is limited, however, a large part of the development will be adding monitoring and brain "reading" components to the mix to create a more dynamic option.

DARPA will spend $50 million this first year and $20 million or more next year on the project.


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