U.S. military to treat PTSD with brain implants

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(NaturalNews) Is it possible to predict a mood swing or control psychological outcomes? The Pentagon is betting that, someday soon, it will possess the technology to do so, and with it develop the ability to treat anxiety, depression, memory loss and all of the other symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has become one of its biggest problems following more than a dozen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The industry publication Defense One reports that the Defense Department is working to develop a new brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers and vets that could eventually work to treat a range of psychological problems among the broader American (and global) public:

With $12 million (and the potential for $26 million more if benchmarks are met), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, wants to reach deep into your brain's soft tissue to record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind. Teams from the University of California at San Francisco, Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Medtronic will use the money to create a cybernetic implant with electrodes extending into the brain. The military hopes to have a prototype within 5 years and then plans to seek FDA approval.

'Automatically adjust therapy as the brain changes'

The Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies, or SUBNETs, program is based upon nearly a decade of research in treating conditions like Parkinson's disease through a technique known as deep brain stimulation. It works like this: Low doses of electricity are sent deep into the brain in about the same way that a defibrillator works to send electricity to the heart during ventricular fibrillation (one form of cardiac arrest).

The research and technology could pave the way for future brain-device interaction in the coming decades, officials said.

"DARPA is looking for ways to characterize which regions come into play for different conditions -- measured from brain networks down to the single neuron level -- and develop therapeutic devices that can record activity, deliver targeted stimulation, and most importantly, automatically adjust therapy as the brain itself changes," DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez told Defense One.

SUBNETs is not the only military research project aimed at stimulating the brain with low-dose electricity. The Air Force has been examining effects of low-dose electricity to the brain by employing a non-invasive interface, which is a small cap device that does not actually penetrate into the skull. The goal is to deliver something like a caffeine boost, to help soldiers remain alert through long stretches of piloting (think drones) and other screen interactions.

Neuroscientists are improving their ability to use, understand and harness the large electrical signals that originate in the brain's motor cortex. Research is also quickly contributing to technology that is usable in the here and now, such as prosthetic arms. However, scientists still do not have a clear understanding of the way in which regions of the brain work in dealing with mood disorders that are associated with PTSD.

Device would replace bulky, expensive existing technology

What is known is that anxiety problems tend to involve a delicate blend of memory and stimuli, and that they manifest themselves across several regions of the brain. Also, such responses and interactions can change as the very malleable brain itself adapts in ways that cannot be predicted.

"Little is understood of how the brain's neural circuitry relates to anxiety and other neuropsychiatric disorders. This project will seek to markedly improve that understanding by obtaining maps of the brain's electrical activity at higher resolution than has been previously possible. The ultimate impact on the treatment of major depression, anxiety disorders, and other conditions remains to be seen, but a more clear understanding of the basis of these disorders is badly needed," Edward Chang, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco told Defense One.

The device would record what is happening when a subject transitions into a state of anxiousness or depression, replacing the current technology to record such fine brain activity -- equipment that is huge and requires many gallons of liquid hydrogen to remain cool. Such machines can cost upwards of $4 million apiece.


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