Tiny Chip Could Be the Answer to Anxiety Disorders

DARPA's new project is gaining a better understanding of how the brain functions to develop new treatments for mental disorders.
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DARPA's new project is gaining a better understanding of how the brain functions to develop new treatments for mental disorders.
brain chip psychiatric disorders

Photo Credit: Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Labs

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a small chip that can be implanted in the brain to treat psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, PTSD and depression. Their goal is to find more effective treatment options for veterans and service members who suffer from debilitating mental conditions.

According to CBS News, the research project is called Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) and it will study what goes on in brain networks of people who suffer from certain psychiatric disorders. The hope is to develop treatments that actually force the brain to unlearn the patterns that cause the disorders.

"Human brain recording can now reveal aspects of mental illness that have been inaccessible to scientists and doctors," said Dr. Edward F. Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the team lead on the project. "By analyzing patterns of interaction among brain regions known to be involved in mental illness we can get a more detailed look than ever before at what might be malfunctioning, and we can then develop technology to correct it."

Massachusetts General Hospital is working with Draper Laboratories to create a tiny device that will be placed between a patient's skull and scalp with several electrodes being placed in different regions of the brain to record data. A doctor would communicate with the device to review the data and prescribe a personalized set of therapies.

"The brain is very different from all other organs because of its networking and adaptability," Justin Sanchez, DARPA program manager for SUBNETS, said in a statement.

Those with debilitating forms of mental disorders often have a hard time keeping a job and are in constant suffering. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders like panic disorders, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder costs the U.S. $42 billion a year, which amounts to one-third of total mental health care costs in the country.

SUBNETS is a project that supports President Obama's Brain Initiative. The initiative is a $100 million program that will advance the understanding of the human brain in order to develop new technologies that will help treat neurological and physiatrics diseases.

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