SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — A team of UCSF scientists has won a major grant to build an implantable device that could track mental illness and possibly re-train the brain to recover.

The UCSF team was awarded the five-year project, initially funded at $12 million, with supplemental funds up to $26 million if various milestones are achieved, from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Currently, a device called a Brain Machine Interface (BMI) can convert electrical impulses or thoughts into control commands for a robotic arm. But doctors at UCSF now want to use that same technology for mental illness by using the BMI to track abnormalities in the brain and help it “unlearn” those problems.

“We want to take this technology to a point where it allows us to understand really complex functions of the brain—things like our emotions, our mood. We want to be able to address neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain,” Dr. Edward Chang, who leads the team, said.

Chang said it’s the kind of technology that could treat people who can’t be helped by psychotherapy or medication.

“As a doctor, I see patients and treat them one by one all the time in my practice but this is the kind of dream project that allows our scientists to potentially treat millions,” he said.

The project will involve more than a dozen scientists, engineers and physicians at UC Berkeley, Cornell University and New York University. It will also include work with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


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