The University of Pennsylvania has announced a four-year, $22.5 million effort to develop next-generation technologies to restore memory function lost due to disease or traumatic injury.
Launched in support of the White House BRAIN Initiative, a public-private partnership announced in April 2013, the project will combine research on the basic mechanisms of memory function with the development of systems to electrically stimulate discrete regions of the brain, with the goal of creating a fully implantable neural monitoring and stimulation system to be used in the treatment of memory loss. The effort, part of the Restoring Active Memory program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will be led by Michael Jacob Kahana, professor of psychology and director of Penn's Computational Memory Lab. Under a cooperative agreement with DARPA — which has committed $50 million toward the BRAIN Initiative — Penn will receive as much as $22.5 million for its work on the RAM program, with full funding contingent on meeting a series of milestones.
The project will involve recruiting neurosurgical patients with epilepsy or Parkinson's disease for whom brain stimulation is part of their clinical treatment, recording neural activity from the implanted electrodes as patients play memory games as a way to identify "biomarkers" of successful memory function, and administering stimulation to determine whether the patients’ memory can be improved by interventions. The development of next-generation technologies to enable real-time recording and stimulation of sites throughout the brain will be carried out through separate collaborations with Medtronic, Inc. and Neuropace, Inc.
"If memory can be improved in patients who have electrodes implanted to treat epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, and who frequently have mild memory impairment," said Kahana, "then we will have gained extremely valuable information on how to restore normal memory function in patients with traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease."