Mass General Awarded Grant to Design Device for PTSD Treatment

The first of its kind device may reduce symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders like PTSD.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a $30 million grant to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) to design an implantable deep brain stimulation device to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders. The device will be used specifically to reduce symptoms of debilitating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that PTSD affects more than 7 million American adults. The CDC reports that TBI was diagnosed in more than 2 million emergency room patients in 2010. That’s why this device could be a true game changer because there is nothing else like it.

In partnership with engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Draper Laboratories, researchers plan to build a device that monitors brain signals in real time and stimulates key areas in order to manage troublesome symptoms.

According to a DARPA report:

The MGH team will pursue a “trans-diagnostic” approach to assessing common components of psychiatric and neurologic diseases—traits common to many such syndromes, including increased anxiety, impaired recall, or inappropriate reactions to stimuli—through qualitative and quantitative behavioral testing combined with high-fidelity, real-time single-neuron recordings.

If successful, this method will allow investigators to follow the traces of pathology from individually firing neurons, up through imaging studies of neural network behavior, and into tests that can be performed in the clinical setting. It could also lead to more targeted treatments for psychiatric disease and advance clinicians’ ability to make accurate diagnoses. The MGH team will also work with Draper Laboratories to deploy state-of-the-art advances in micro-fabrication of electronics, with the goal of generating a sophisticated, implantable device that will remain safe and effective through the lifetime of the recipient.

Emad Eskandar, director of functional neurosurgery at Mass General, said in the report that deep brain stimulation has been effective in treating other brain diseases, like Parkinson’s. He says the goal for this initiative, also known as the Transdiagnostic Restoration of Affective Networks by System Identification and Function Oriented Real-Modeling and Deep Brain Stimulation, is to take the methodology “to the next level.”

“We’re strongly encouraged by the previous data connected with this approach,” Eskandar said in the report. “Our hope is that this project will not only restore quality of life for those affected, both military and civilian, but dramatically change the way we approach the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.”