It sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick: Direct brain recording, a shorthand for probing the brain to listen to its chatter. But the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is dedicating $40 million to this high-tech field to help the estimated 270,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war vets with traumatic brain injury get their memories back, the agency announced. The ambitious goal of the new Restoring Active Memory program: the creation of implants that stimulate an injured brain’s memory centers back into full function.
Two centers have won contracts to develop these implants—UCLA will focus on the area of the brain that turns daily life into long-term memory, while Penn will use electrodes to look for “biomarkers” of functional memory, patterns that accompany the creation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. The end goal of both is to restore memory and develop the brain-stimulating implants, or “neuroprosthetics.” Experts are worried that such stimulation may not really imitate the brain’s internal dialogue and do more harm than good, reports the New York Times. “When working with the brain, you have to keep slapping yourself in the face as a reality check; we still understand so little,” says the chief of neurosurgery at Albany Hospital. (Read more scientific research stories.)