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BrainTech: Six Take-aways on Neuroplasticity and Cognitive training

braintechIsrael’s first inter­na­tional Brain­Tech con­fer­ence took place this week, on Octo­ber 14 and 15th. It was orga­nized by Israel Brain Tech­nolo­gies (IBT), a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to posi­tion Israel as a global brain tech­nol­ogy and research cen­ter. The con­fer­ence included talks rep­re­sent­ing mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers in the neu­rotech­nol­ogy sec­tor world­wide – patients, clin­i­cians, aca­d­e­mic lead­ers, pub­lic offi­cials, entre­pre­neurs and indus­try exec­u­tives. An impor­tant ses­sion in the con­fer­ence was the Brain­Blitz — a round­table ses­sion where dif­fer­ent brain tech­nol­ogy top­ics were dis­cussed in smaller inter­est groups.

Our table, devoted to Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and Cog­ni­tive train­ing, was mod­er­ated by Prof. Hil­lik Lev­kovitz, head of day­care depart­ment and of the lab for research of emo­tions and cog­ni­tion at Shal­vata Men­tal Health Cen­ter, and by myself, as a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and entre­pre­neur. It included a very het­ero­ge­neous group of peo­ple — mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gists, cog­ni­tive train­ing entre­pre­neurs, clin­i­cians (neu­rol­ogy, psy­chi­a­try), ther­a­pists (OT, speech), and some peo­ple with cog­ni­tive impair­ment. Here are some of the main take-aways from the rich discussion:

  1. Moti­va­tion seems to be crit­i­cal in any form of neuroplasticity-based ther­apy. Moti­va­tion as a dri­ver of repeated and inten­sive prac­tice as well as moti­va­tion and reward as enhancers and mod­u­la­tors of neu­ro­plas­tic­ity processes. In par­tic­u­lar, in reha­bil­i­ta­tion cases where moti­va­tional processes are impaired, treat­ing and train­ing moti­va­tional cir­cuits may be the first pri­or­ity as a gate­way to train­ing of other func­tions. The engag­ing and even addic­tive power of computer/video games was men­tioned as poten­tially ben­e­fi­cial dri­ver of moti­va­tion for cog­ni­tive training.
  2. Brain plas­tic­ity may go both ways, thus cog­ni­tive train­ing can even be detri­men­tal if it is not designed and per­formed cor­rectly. There­fore peo­ple devel­op­ing and using cog­ni­tive meth­ods should be cau­tious and keep assess­ing the effect of their pro­to­cols on a reg­u­lar basis, and make sure that cog­ni­tive train­ing is per­son­ally adapted on a dynam­ics level.
  3. There are sig­nif­i­cant gaps in the “sup­ply chain” process of trans­lat­ing sci­en­tific find­ings into valu­able solu­tions, espe­cially regard­ing clin­i­cally val­i­dated cog­ni­tive train­ing. We still see many chal­lenges in trans­form­ing research into clin­i­cal meth­ods, and in mak­ing sure clin­i­cal ther­a­pies trans­late into real-life improve­ments. The exam­ple of schiz­o­phre­nia was dis­cussed in depth, high­light­ing the dif­fi­culty to trans­fer psy­chother­apy, occu­pa­tional ther­apy and cog­ni­tive train­ing ben­e­fits into improve­ment in daily life.
  4. We see poten­tial value in new media/ gam­ing for enhanc­ing trans­fer of train­ing into real-life. Tech­nolo­gies such as 3D motion sen­sors that enable nat­ural inter­ac­tion (Primesense/Kincet), afford­able VR solu­tions, and aug­mented real­ity solu­tions (Google Glass), can help upgrade cog­ni­tive train­ing by mak­ing it more sim­i­lar to real-life form of inter­ac­tion and envi­ron­men­tal context.
  5. Reha­bil­i­ta­tion processes that involve recruit­ment of new brain areas may ben­e­fit in the future from the pos­si­bil­ity of implant­ing cor­tex tis­sue and rewiring it by train­ing it to imple­ment impaired/new cog­ni­tive functions.
  6. Finally, it is impor­tant to start defin­ing guide­lines for eth­i­cal issues, such as afford­abil­ity and access to cog­ni­tive train­ing by some pop­u­la­tions and not others.

SonPremingerDr. Son Pre­minger is the founder and CEO of Intendu Ltd. a cog­ni­tive train­ing startup. She also holds an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor posi­tion at the Psy­chol­ogy school at the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Cen­ter (IDC) Herzliya.

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