The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $50 million into the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) project this year, a venture that aims to develop and implement a brain prosthetic that helps restore memory.
If RAM, a part of President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, proves successful, it could restore declarative memory function (time, places and events) for troops who have sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Doctors also could use it for traumatic brain injury treatment for Alzheimer’s sufferers.
DARPA Plans to Help with Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment
DARPA explains the gist of the RAM project: “The specific end goal of RAM is to develop and test an implantable neural device for human clinical use to restore specific types or attributes of memories to individuals with memory deficits.”
Researchers first will need to develop a better understanding of how neurons code specific memories, and then create a model that effectively stimulates neuron function to facilitate brain processes that have been affected as a result of TBI.
The RAM brain prosthesis will be able to interact with the hippocampus, the part of the brain that consolidates short- and long-term memory and currently cannot be healed with traumatic brain injury treatment.
“If you have been injured in the line of duty, and you can’t remember your family, we want to be able to restore those kinds of functions,” DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez explains on RT America.
Additional Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Uses for RAM
In addition to helping soldiers and Alzheimer’s patients, RAM might prove useful for:
- Parkinson’s disease symptoms;
- general TBI patients;
- depression; and
- mental health disorders.
Critics of the RAM Project
The RAM project has been called “ambitious” at best, and some critics are concerned about the blurry ethical lines. Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center shares his sentiments on RT: “When you fool around with the brain, you are fooling around with personal identity. The cost of altering the mind is you risk losing a sense of self, and that is a new kind of risk we never faced.”
One concern is that RAM would have the potential to alter people’s personalities, which Caplan mentions could make soldiers “more violent and callous.” After a traumatic brain injury, treatment can help victims master memory motor tasks like brushing teeth or tying shoes, but declarative and associative memory still has not been mastered. The three stages of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation include inpatient care, community reintegration and lifetime care that addresses the personality changes that accompany serious injury but would need addition and revision if RAM is incorporated.
There’s little doubt that the RAM project will raise a smattering of ELSI: ethical, legal and social implications. DARPA has a six-member ELSI panel to help address these issues, but they are currently vague on the subject.
When Science asked Geoffrey Ling, the deputy director of the Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, how the agency plans on handling the ethical issues involved in brain research, Ling responded, “As the programs unroll and we elucidate new information and new capabilities, the discussion has to be ongoing. You can’t a priori think of all the things that will come out, so you have to have a process to look at [ELSI].”
Free Legal Consultation for Brain Injury Claims in Denver
If you or your family member suffered a brain injury, you might be entitled to compensation. It’s in your best interest to contact an injury attorney to determine your options.
For assistance in Denver, you are welcome to contact the law office of D.J. Banovitz for a free legal consultation: 303-300-5060.