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DARPA Launches Research Program on Behavioral Health Mechanisms

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is soliciting research proposals focused on neurobehavioral protective factors and wellbeing as part of a Defense Sciences Office-led program aimed at enhancing mental health of military service members.

The STRENGTHEN program, or Strengthening Resilient Emotions and Nimble Cognition Through Engineering Neuroplasticity effort, seeks to address traumatic stress effects that cause behavioral health disorders and suicidality among warfighters, DARPA said Tuesday.

Optimizing the brain circuits responsible for cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation by building on neuroscience and clinical practice advances is the target of the initiative. It aligns with one of the Department of Defense’s top priorities: suicide prevention.

“Current mental health intervention approaches rely on diagnostic categories based on descriptive symptoms rather than a mechanistic understanding of brain network dysfunction causing those symptoms,” said Dr. Greg Witkop, a former Army surgeon who manages the STRENGTHEN program in DSO. “By identifying and optimizing the brain networks associated with cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation, STRENGTHEN seeks to heal — and prevent — changes in the brain networks caused by traumatic stress,” he added.

Developing CF and ER network models and designing hybrid interventions for inducing neuroplastic change in functional connectivity are STRENGTHEN’s top goals. Interested parties are welcome to join the program proposers day on Friday to learn more about the initiative.