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New DARPA-funded program aims to develop technology, therapies for brain trauma

Armed with a nearly $15 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (no pun intended), a four-university research team has launched an effort to learn how the brain reacts to sudden physiological changes and what can be done to encourage its recovery from injury.

The project, which is being led by Stanford University and Brown University, aims to produce new brain implant technologies that can both sense the brain's electrical signals and deliver optogenetic light pulses to neural tissue. According to a Stanford release:

As the team's researchers learn more about brain function in normal operation and during a simulated injury, they hope to gain a better understanding of how to encourage the brain to rewire itself further. Or, in instances when the brain's ability to heal itself reaches a limit, the researchers may find other ways to restore function.

For instance, the team hopes to develop a new model of the flow of information around the brain and how each part generates the signals needed by other parts. That kind of insight could help lead to the development of prosthetic computer chips that mimic and replace the computational role of injured regions of the brain. These chips might be miniaturized versions of the implants developed in the REPAIR project, which are capable not only of reading neural-electrical signals but also of generating optical-neural signals for use by brain cells.

Stanford and Brown are working with scientists at the University of California, San Francisco and University College London.

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