personnel control sophisticated systems, experience extraordinary stress, and
are subject to injury of the brain. To address these challenges, DARPA seeks
innovative neurotechnology and advanced understanding of the brain using a
multidisciplinary approach that combines data processing, mathematical
modeling, and novel interfaces. The Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program is
part of a broader portfolio of programs within DARPA that support President
Obama’s brain initiative.
Traumatic brain injury
(TBI) is a serious cause of disability in the United States. Diagnosed in more
than 270,000 military servicemembers since 2000 and affecting an estimated 1.7
million U.S. civilians each year, TBI frequently results in an impaired ability
to retrieve memories formed prior to injury and a reduced capacity to form or
retain new memories following injury. Despite the scale of the problem, no
effective therapies currently exist to mitigate the long-term consequences of
TBI on memory. Through the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, DARPA seeks
to accelerate the development of technology able to address this public health
challenge and help servicemembers and others overcome memory deficits by
developing new neuroprosthetics to bridge gaps in the injured brain.
The end goal of RAM is to develop and test a wireless, fully implantable
neural-interface medical device for human clinical use, but a number of
significant advances will be targeted on the way to achieving that goal. To
start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models
with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code
declarative memories—those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be
consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places.
Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural
signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the
brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury.
“Encoding” refers to the process by which newly learned information is attended
to and processed by the brain when first encountered.
Building on this
foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational
models developed under RAM into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to
deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory
function. These studies will involve volunteers living with deficits in the
encoding and/or retrieval of declarative memories and/or volunteers undergoing
neurosurgery for other neurological conditions.
In addition to human
clinical efforts, RAM will support animal studies to advance the
state-of-the-art of quantitative models that account for the encoding and
retrieval of complex memories and memory attributes, including their
hierarchical associations with one another. This work will also seek to
identify any characteristic neural and behavioral correlates of memories
facilitated by therapeutic devices.
RAM and related DARPA
neuroscience efforts are informed by members of an independent Ethical,
Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) panel. Communications with ELSI
panelists supplement the oversight provided by institutional review boards
that govern human clinical studies and animal use.
RAM is part of a
broader portfolio of programs within DARPA that support President Obama’s