Logo: University of Southern California

DARPA awards $2.3 million grant to restore lost memory function

The USC REMIND program, headed by Professor Theodore Berger, eyes the next stage of neural prosthetics

October 16, 2012 —

A team of investigators at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, led by Theodore Berger, David Packard Professor of Engineering, professor of biomedical engineering, and director of the Center for Neural Engineering, was awarded an Option II of $2,388,408 for 2012-2013 research on a program called REMIND, supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The other major USC investigators are Dr. Vasilis Marmarelis, professor of biomedical engineering; Dr. Dong Song, assistant research professor of biomedical engineering; and Dr. John Granacki of the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) and research professor with the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering.

The REMIND program is funded to develop a neural prosthesis, in software and in hardware, that can substitute for a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming new long-term memories.

The hippocampus often is damaged after stroke, extended epilepsy, as a consequence of aging (e.g., Alzheimer's disease), and in association with blunt head trauma. The REMIND cognitive prosthesis, which is designed to mimic the internal neural signal processing of the hippocampus, is functionally "connected" to the brain through multi-electrode arrays, such that information which normally flows to the hippocampus instead is re-routed to the neural prosthesis. The prosthesis performs hippocampal-like nonlinear transformations of the multi-signal input dynamics; as a consequence, the multi-signal output of the prosthesis is coded appropriately to function as output of the hippocampus. Through a second set of multi-electrode arrays, output of the prosthesis is used to electrically stimulate output neurons of the hippocampus, and thus, codes for new memories are sent to non-hippocampal parts of the brain for long-term storage. After having successfully developed such a prosthesis for the rat brain, the project now is focusing on both a memory prosthesis for the hippocampus, and an “executive function” prosthesis for the prefrontal cortex, of non-human primates (rhesus monkeys).

The USC team works in the REMIND program with a co-team of investigators at Wake Forest University and at the University of Kentucky. The PI for the REMIND co-team is Dr. Sam Deadwyler (Prof. of Physiology and Pharmacology) of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and includes Dr. Rob Hampson (Associate Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology also at Wake Forest) and Dr. Greg Gerhardt of the University of Kentucky Medical School (Prof. of Neurobiology and Anatomy). The REMIND co-team headed by Dr. Deadwyler received an additional $1,763,209 from DARPA for their 2012-2013 Option II component. DARPA has committed a total of $16.8M in support for the REMIND Program during the last four years.