The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a new project that involves stimulating certain nerves in the the neck and brain to speed up how quickly a person learns.
The program, called Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), looks into synaptic plasticity, cognitive skills training, and using a device that could stimulate precise peripheral nerves (part of the motor and sensory nervous system) to improve and strengthen parts of the brain involved in learning.
"Recent research has shown that stimulation of certain peripheral nerves, easily and painlessly achieved through the skin, can activate regions of the brain involved with learning," said TNT program manager Doug Weber.
"You can think of peripheral nerve stimulation as a way to reopen the so-called 'critical period' when the brain is more facile and adaptive."
The agency believes this could lower the Department of Defense's training costs and could be used to speed up the learning process for cryptographers, language specialists, intelligence analysts, and others.
DARPA will look to create a device to stimulate the nerves in a non-invasive manner, however it will also need to conduct fundamental research into how nerve stimulation impacts synaptic plasticity, how cognitive skills learning is regulated in the brain, and how to safely boost this to accelerate learning.
"This natural process of synaptic plasticity is pivotal for learning, but much is unknown about the physiological mechanisms that link peripheral nerve stimulation to improved plasticity and learning," Weber explained
"TNT technology will be designed to safely and precisely modulate peripheral nerves to control plasticity at optimal points in the learning process."
DARPA plans to begin taking proposals next month and will host a Proposers Day on April 8 in Virginia to familiarize potential participants with what it hopes to achieve with TNT research.