WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- President Obama is backing a unique program aimed at developing computer chip implants that monitor and augment an injured soldier's nervous system -- mitigating all sorts of maladies, ranging from arthritis to post-traumatic stress.
The computer chips are the purview of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency specializing in the development of high-tech military equipment. It was one of several programs green-lighted as part of the 19 executive actions announced yesterday by President Obama -- all of them aimed at boosting the mental health of U.S. troops and veterans.
The aim of the Electrical Prescriptions program, or ElectRx for short -- pronounced electrics -- is to develop an implantable biosensing device, that could tap into, monitor and control the body's organs and biosystems, so to predict and pacify problems at their onset.
"Instead of relying only on medication, we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker," ElectRx Program Manager Doug Weber told the Washington Post. "It would continually assess conditions and provide stimulus patterns tailored to help maintain healthy organ function, helping patients get healthy and stay healthy using their body's own systems."
As explained by a Defense Department press release accompanying Tuesday's executive orders announcement -- which failed to directly mention ElectRx -- the $78.9 million, five-year "cutting edge PTSD research" program will look "to develop new, minimally invasive neurotechnologies that will increase the ability of the body and brain to induce healing."
Of course implantable medical devices aren't entirely novel. Ever since the pacemaker, medical researchers have been looking for ways to monitor and mend health conditions in real time -- from within the body. But most implantable bio- and neurotechnologies are too large and their installation requires invasive surgery. DARPA hopes to create computer chips small enough to be injected via a syringe.