US scientists, funded by the US Army, are developing the first artificial implant brain implants designed for the “automatic” treatment of mental illness. These devices record neuronal activity, and when they think something is wrong, they automatically stimulate the brain with electrical pulses to change the feelings and behavior of a person.
Two independent research teams, one from the University of California, one from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, have already begun tests of implants in humans, supported by the Pentagon’s Advanced Defense Research Programs (DARPA), according to Nature.
Implants have electronic sensors and artificial intelligence algorithms that “read” the activity of brain neurons in order to detect any disorders. They then send small shocks to bring it back to normal without a doctor intervening or needing a pharmateutical therapy.
Related research, presented at a conference of the Washington Neuroscience Society, may eventually lead to a new way of treating mental illness, especially those who do not respond to existing therapies. The use of implants that send electrical pulses (a technique known as “deep brain stimulation”) is not a new discovery but has been used for a few years to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, but has less success in mental illness such as depression.
New implants are more sophisticated because they have their own “intelligence”, they allow their personalized use according to the patient and are designed specifically for mental disorders. DARPA strengthens research because it will be used at soldiers and veterans who suffer from lack of concentration, depression, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.
In the first instance implants are tested in patients with epilepsy. On the other hand, moral issues arise, as new biomedical technology gives scientists access to the real world of a human being in real time. The researchers said they already collaborated with experts in the field of neuroscience.