The US military's research division is turning its considerable might against one of the military's most persistent foes: mental illness. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency today announced a $26 million effort to develop a brain implant that could treat things like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. "At DARPA, we think that we have to go well beyond what is currently available," a program manager tells NPR. The goal is to build on the simple brain stimulation devices that are currently used to treat Parkinson's disease.
Teams at UC San Francisco and Massachusetts General Hospital will lead the effort. Their goal is to discover which neural pathways are related to various disorders, then create an implant that can nudge the brain into using alternative circuits. "We know that once you start putting stimulation into the brain, the brain will change in response," one UCSF neurosurgeon explains. The plan relies on "neural plasticity," the idea that the brain's physiology can change over time—as opposed to the older theory that adult brains eventually "finish" developing.