DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has launched an initiative to test devices implanted in the brains of war veterans suffering from mental illness.
DARPA’s devices are designed to stimulate certain parts of the brain with the aim of helping veterans with numerous war induced mental disorders such as PTSD, depression, and chronic pain.
Although implanting electronic devices in the brain is not without controversy, there are plenty of existing cases that have proven quite effective in treating certain neurological disorders. For example, Deep-Brain Stimulation has been an effective, though invasive, therapy for people suffering from movement disorders like Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremors.
The rate of veterans afflicted with challenging mental and emotional disorders after returning from tours of duty is alarming. To address this issue, and in partnership with President Obama’s $100 million brain research initiative to map the human brain, DARPA hopes to find new ways to treat psychiatric disorders that will someday benefit veterans and civilians alike.
DARPA’s SUBNET (Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies) program will fund teams of researchers to create a brain interface, along with computerized models of the brain that are meant to track brain activity to help researchers study numerous illnesses.
Certain activities of the brain related to health and disease are not confined to distinct areas. Instead, numerous signals are sent through synapses (where nerve impulses are triggered and received) distributed to different neural systems. Understanding the vast complexity of the full functionality of the human brain is what President Obama’s $100 million, ten year initiative aims to achieve.
“The neurotechnologies we will work to develop under SUBNETS could give new tools to the medical community to treat patients who don’t respond to other therapies, and new knowledge to the neuroscience community to expand the understanding of brain function,” Justin Sanchez, the DARPA program manager for SUBNETS, said in a statement.
If implanting small electronic devices does help cure and treat a host of mental illnesses, then the need for risky pharmaceuticals could be significantly reduced.
And there is always the possibility that future discoveries of the human brain will provide alternative treatment options that neither include pharmaceuticals nor devices implanted in the brain for those suffering from mental illness.