Penn Gets DoD Grant to Heal Brain Injuries

Implants examined to help injured soldiers make and retain memories.

The New York Times reports that Penn is getting a major Department of Defense grant to research how to help brain-injured soldiers make and retain new memories. The research will focus on implants that help the brain do its job, the paper reports.

The Department of Defense on Tuesday announced a $40 million investment in what has become the fastest-moving branch of neuroscience: direct brain recording. Two centers, one at the University of Pennsylvania and the other at the University of California, Los Angeles, won contracts to develop brain implants for memory deficits.

Their aim is to develop new treatments for traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Its most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain.

More than 270,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have received a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, or T.B.I. Darpa’s $40 million investment is in addition to more than $50 million the agency announced this spring to use direct brain recording techniques for mood problems from deployment; these commitments are in support of President Obama’s Brain Initiative, Darpa officials said.

Penn’s press release on the grant:

The Penn effort is led by Michael Jacob Kahana, professor of psychology and director of theComputational Memory Lab, and is part of the “Restoring Active Memory” program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Penn team also includes researchers from thePerelman School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“If memory can be improved in patients who have electrodes implanted to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, and who frequently have mild memory impairment, then we will have gained extremely valuable information on how to restore normal memory function in patients with traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease,” Kahana said.

The project is planned to last four years.