A Program to Remember

The goal of developing a neurotechnology therapy to treat cognitive and memory disorders is a challenging yet potentially rewarding one, as we report in our article on page 1 of this issue. Clearly, identifying the key brain regions that could act as potential DBS targets and elucidating the salient neural code responsible for normal and pathological memory function are important milestones in achieving that goal.

Fortunately, the field of neurotechnology has a powerful ally in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA’s Restoring Active Memory program has allocated $40 million in an effort to develop implantable neural interfaces that can bridge the gaps that interfere with an individual’s ability to encode new memories or retrieve old ones [NBR Jul14 p1].

The Computational Memory Lab at the University of Pennsylvania is performing much of the work for the RAM program, building models of human memory and identifying neural oscillatory correlates of episodic memory. The lab’s director, Dan Rizzuto, will provide an update on his team’s work at the upcoming Neurotech Leaders Forum in San Francisco on November 2.

DARPA is planning to launch a new neurotech program next month called RAM Replay that may help individuals not just better remember items but learn physical skills. Complex skills can take years to master, and it’s not just repetition of physical movements that matters. The process also often involves the repeated mental and physiological “replaying” of the skill during wakefulness and sleep to solidify the skill.

Earlier this month, DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez presented preliminary findings from the RAM program at a DARPA-sponsored event in St. Louis called “Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum.” Initial results indicate that it is indeed possible to capture and interpret neural codes coming from the brain during memory encoding and retrieval, and improve recall using targeted electrical stimulation of the brain.

The research is addressing the important issue of the ideal timing of electrical stimuli involved in the neural codes. “Should we provide electrical inputs when the lists are first being taught and memorized, or should we stimulate when the person is working to recall those items? We still have a lot to learn about how the human brain encodes declarative memory, but these early experiments are clarifying issues such as these and suggest there is great potential to help people with certain kinds of memory deficits,” Sanchez said.

The neurotech community is indeed fortunate to have an advocate and benefactor like Sanchez. With its funding and research guidance, DARPA is offering a memory aid we will not soon forget.

James Cavuoto

Editor and Publisher

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