Military researchers are at it again with another futuristic, inspiring and kind of creepy endeavor: brain chip implants to treat mental illness.
It’s no secret that disorders like PTSD, anxiety and depression have really pulled a number on U.S. soldiers (both those who have deployed, and—more puzzling—those stationary on American soil), leading to reduced quality of life and a troubling number of suicides over the past decade.
How the Chips Work
Explaining the need to “go well beyond what is currently available,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency just announced its intention to use a hearty $26 million for a project on brain implants built around the same concept as simple brain stimulation devices, which are having some success in treating Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers hope to discover which neural pathways are associated with particular disorders, then create implants to stimulate the brain into using alternative, less profoundly miserable, circuits. This bold project relies on a theory of the brain that has gained traction over the past several decades—that brain physiology is plastic, and dammit, it can change over time.
Promising or Troubling?
Clearly this development would have implications far beyond the military—think of how us regular folk could likewise use this sort of brain IUD to physically stop distressing mental problems in their neural tracks. Of course it’s also easy to envision less savory scenarios—it's Big Brother, straight up in your brain! And let’s face it, the government doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to medical ethics.
But at least for now, we’ll refrain from alarmism and take DARPA at its word that this could be a hugely promising step in treating difficult mental illness.