According to the CDC, 1.7 million people experience traumatic brain injuries of varying severity in the U.S each year including many returning war veterans. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is leading research on the brain with current funding initiatives.
Recently, DARPA awarded the SUNY Downstate Medical Center $12.8 million to study the brain’s plasticity or ability to recover from brain injury. The newly funded research will create a realistic computational model and deliver a system that can be used for rehabilitation.
DARPA awarded the contract through their Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery (REPAIR) program. The program seeks new methods to analyze and decode neural signals in order to understand how neural-based sensory stimulation could be applied to accelerate recovery from brain injuries.
The project draws on complex research at SUNY Downstate and research being done at the University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at Berkeley, and from industry partner NIRx Medical Technologies. The team includes neuroscientists, biomedical engineers, roboticists, physicians, and clinical scientists.
In another project, researchers at four institutions led by Stanford University, Brown University, University of California San Francisco, and University College in London are studying how both the brain and its microcircuitry react to sudden physiological changes and what can be done to encourage recovery from brain injuries. DARPA is providing $14.9 million for two years with an option to increase the project’s scope to $28.8 million and four years through their REPAIR program.
The team hopes to develop a new model to show the flow of information around the brain and research how each part generates the signals needed by other parts. This information could help lead to the development of prosthetic computer chips that mimic and replace the computational role of injured regions of the brain. These chips could possibly be miniaturized versions of the implants developed in the REPAIR project that would be capable not only of reading neural-electrical signals but also able to generate optical-neural signals for use by brain cells.