DARPA's Brain Implants Would Help Replace Mental Function in Wounded Warfighters

The implants would use light pulses to activate certain brain regions and reroute function

Controlling the Brain
Let's think outside the boxNational Science Foundation

Traumatic brain injuries affect as many as 20 percent of warfighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the Pentagon's whiz kids at DARPA have turned to optogenetic brain implants that use light pulses to control brain cells, and hopefully reroute brain activity, Wired's Danger Room reports.

Such brain implants made from electrodes or optical fibers would sit on the brain's surface and monitor the electrical signals sent among neurons. They would also beam light pulses to stimulate specific parts of the brain in response, and ideally help the brain function normally despite having damaged areas.

The appropriately-named REPAIR (Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery) project involves a team led by Stanford and Brown universities working with a two-year budget of $14.9 million. First up for the optogenetic tests are mice, rats and eventually monkeys.

Learning how to manage the human brain has been a top priority for DARPA in recent years, given the mad science lab's orders for technology such as cryogenic methods to freeze traumatic brain injury in its tracks. But they also seek to co-opt the brain's power for directly controlling prosthetic limbs usable by wounded warfighters. Even if this latest venture does not directly heal, it may at least help negate the effects of brain injuries so that it's as if they never existed.