DARPA is tooling up to make us the Borg. (Perhaps coming sooner than most expect.)
"The proposed stimulation methods are fascinating in their diversity. Researchers will not only stimulate nerves with jolts of electricity, they’ll also use pulses of light, sound waves, and magnetic fields.
Three research teams using electrical stimulation will target the vagus nerve, which affects many different parts of the body.
The light-based stimulation research comes from the startup Circuit Therapeutics. The company was cofounded by Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, one of the inventors of optogenetics, the new technique that inserts light-sensitive proteins into neurons and then uses pulses of light to turn those neurons “on” and “off.” Under the DARPA grant, the researchers will try to use pulses of light to alter neural circuits involved in neuropathic pain.
To tweak the nervous system with sound waves, Columbia University’s Elisa Konofagou will use a somewhat mysterious ultrasound technique. In an e-mail, Konofagou explains that it’s already known that ultrasound can be used to stimulate neurons, but with the DARPA grant, she hopes to figure out how it works. Her hypothesis: As ultrasound propogates through biological tissue, it exerts mechanical pressure on that tissue, which stimulates specific mechanosensitive channels in neurons and causes them to “turn on.”
The final project will rely on magnetic fields to activate neurons, using a technique that could be called “magnetogenetics.” An MIT team led by Polina Anikeeva will insert heat-sensitive proteins into neurons, and will then deploy magnetic nanoparticles that bind to the surface of those neurons. When exposed to a magnetic field, these nanoparticles heat up and activate the neurons to which they’re attached."