A new federal program will fund research into “neuroprosthetics” to enable persons with traumatic brain injury or disease to recover lost memory.

The funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is part of the public-private Brain Initiative that President Obama launched in April 2013 to map the human brain and discover new treatments, preventions and cures for brain disorders and injuries.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Los Angeles will receive up to $37.5 million from DARPA to develop and test electronic interfaces that sense memory deficits and attempt to restore normal function, according to the agency. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will get up to $2.5 million from DARPA to develop an implantable neural device to restore memory. UCLA will lead the program.

The goal of the Restoring Active Memory program (RAM) is to have neural-interfaced devices at that act as “neuroprosthetics” to bridge gaps that interfere with the ability of the brain to encode new memories or retrieve old ones, according to DARPA.

As the agency explains: “To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories--those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times and places. Researchers also will explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ‘Endcoding’ refers to the process by which newly learned information is attended to and processed by the brain when first encountered.

“Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models developed under RAM into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function. These studies will involve volunteers living with deficits in the encoding and/or retrieval of declarative memories and/or volunteers undergoing neurosurgery for other neurological conditions.”

University of Pennsylvania researchers will study neurosurgical patients who have electrodes implanted in various parts of their brains as part of treatment for various conditions. The patients will play computerized memory games and researchers will measure biomarkers of successful memory function. Using models developed from biomarkers and a neural stimulation and monitoring system that medical device vendor Medtronic is developing, researchers then could attempt to restore memory function. The RAM project also will support animal studies.

The national Brain Initiative is modeled after the Human Genome Project, which included federal investments of $3.8 billion between 1988 and 2003, with a return of $141 for every invested dollar, the Obama Administration said when launching the program last year. An overview of the Brain Initiative is here.

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