Hope of Memory Restoration Gets Boost from DARPA

The hope of donning an electrode device and recovering memories lost to brain injury is getting a nudge from the Pentagon.

When you break a bone or puncture a lung, the evidence is usually pretty apparent and the treatment required to support the healing process is typically straightforward. That is not the case with brain injuries. In the case of a closed head injury, the physical evidence of the trauma can go undetected for a long time. It may only be after a victim begins to display symptoms such as headaches, memory loss, change of mood, or inability to concentrate that a diagnosis gets made. Even then, finding and applying the right treatment can still be a challenge to figure out.

It is true that we have learned an amazing amount about the brain in just the past few decades, and the volume of information seems to grow exponentially with each passing day thanks to research. Still, treatments remain very much in the experimental realm. With each new advance comes new questions requiring new research.

Hope for the Future for Brain Injury Victims

Fortunately, there are organizations like the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, which made it their mission to fund such trailblazing work. One of the areas that is benefitting is the branch of neuroscience called direct brain recording.

By implanting electrodes into a brain, scientists are finding they can track how memories are formed in real time. The discovery raises the hope that someday a device can be created that will reproduce the process and help brain injury victims restore memories that have been lost due to damage.

As farfetched as it might seem, DARPA officials see enough merit in the idea that they recently announced funding totaling $40 million. The challenge is to see if the imagined "neuroprosthetic" can be become a reality within the next four years and eventually help people who have suffered memory loss due to brain injuries .

The idea for this kind of memory revival has been something that has reportedly been promoted for the past few years by the likes of Theodore Berger, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California. While generally considered radical, work by other California researchers suggest it might be feasible.

For example, there is the sci-fi seeming work by scientists at the University of California, San Diego. They found they could erase and restore memory in some genetically engineered mice with a flash of light. There is also the work by Columbia University Medical Center doctors that revealed that by increasing the level of certain brain protein, memory in old mice could be significantly improved.

Theory Behind the Research

The heart of the electrode research is the theory that all memories are formed the same way—through the sequential firing of many neurons. The belief is that brain trauma disrupts the sequence, disrupting the memory. So, the premise is that perhaps electrode implants can encourage neurons to build workarounds and restore memories.

As hopeful as all this sounds, the reality today is that it is still not available. Current care and treatment of brain trauma costs significant amounts of money and is usually required for the rest of a victim's life. To be sure that those needs are met after an accident, an attorney should be contacted to discuss your legal options.