Brain fitness meets HRV and EEG biometrics and neuroinformatics

As an active par­tic­i­pant in the Open­ViBE project (a soft­ware plat­form to design, test and use Brain-Com­put­er Inter­faces), in sci­en­tif­ic as well as tech­ni­cal capac­i­ties, I have long been focused on ways to process, ana­lyze and put brain sig­nals to prac­ti­cal use. When I start­ed read­ing on the sub­ject of brain fit­ness a few years ago, I rec­og­nized the poten­tial to enhance a vari­ety of brain train­ing approach­es, from med­i­ta­tion to cog­ni­tive train­ing, by deploy­ing devices  mea­sur­ing brain activ­i­ty dur­ing train­ing, and for the bio­met­rics, neu­ro­feed­back and brain fit­ness com­mu­ni­ties to con­nect and work with each oth­er. What I heard dur­ing the 2012 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit: Opti­miz­ing Health Through Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, Inno­va­tion and Data demon­strat­ed that things are indeed mov­ing in the right direction.

We are wit­ness­ing a “super con­ver­gence” tak­ing place:

1. Biofeed­back (par­tic­u­lar­ly Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty) is now main­stream. Heart Rate Vari­abil­i­ty (HRV) was men­tioned a dozen of times as appro­pri­ate biofeed­back medi­um for relax­ation and emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion. Sharp­Brains is now putting it at step 8 of their “How To Be Your Own Brain Fit­ness Coach” elearn­ing course. HRV is mea­sured with Elec­tro-car­dio­g­ra­phy (ECG), which is now main­stream through the avail­abil­i­ty of phone-con­nect­ed ECG devices, designed, for instance, for casu­al ath­letes. Among oth­er exam­ples, Savan­nah DeVar­ney, VP Prod­ucts at Brain Resource, intro­duced MyCalm­Beat, a stress man­age­ment mobile appli­ca­tion tar­get­ing com­pa­nies and their employ­ees to help decrease stress, sharp­en focus and improve health in sys­tem­at­ic ways.

2. Cheap­er elec­tro-encephalog­ra­phy (EEG) devices are con­sumer-friend­ly for the first time, and suit­able for use out-of-the-lab and out-of-the-clin­ic. Stan­ley Yang, CEO of Neu­rosky, and Tan Le, CEO of Emo­tiv Life­sciences, pre­sent­ed their respec­tive con­sumer-grade EEG plat­forms for home or office use, which do not require the help of an expert for set-up. Their tech­nol­o­gy was first mar­ket­ed with video games in mind (Emo­tiv sold devices in 90 coun­tries, and Neu­rosky sold more than 1M chips already), but both com­pa­nies are now look­ing for­ward to main­stream brain health and well­ness appli­ca­tions. Inex­pen­sive mul­ti-sen­sor devices such as the Emo­tiv EPOC can record real brain sig­nals, and have been used by Brain Com­put­er Inter­faces (BCI) research labs for sev­er­al years now. The avail­abil­i­ty of this tech­nol­o­gy at low prices opens up oppor­tu­ni­ties of using EEG out of the lab or of the hos­pi­tal, as for instance at home or office.

3. Valu­able infor­ma­tion can be extract­ed from EEG (and Quan­ti­ta­tive EEG) to enable next-gen­er­a­tion brain health assess­ments. Dr Evian Gor­don out­lined that EEG is becom­ing real­ly scal­able, most­ly because of the emer­gence of ultra-cheap devices, pre­dict­ing that these tech­nolo­gies are less than 10 years from what we have today for heart mon­i­tor­ing. Dr. Adam Gaz­za­ley, Direc­tor of the Neu­ro­science Imag­ing Cen­ter of the UCSF, dis­cussed the work his lab is already doing in that direc­tion. Data points like these demon­strate that EEG-based bio­met­rics can add val­ue to tra­di­tion­al brain health assess­ments, which often rely on symp­toms or tie-con­sum­ing neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal bat­ter­ies. For instance, some spe­cif­ic mark­ers (such as the decreased laten­cy and ampli­tudes of P300 Evoked Response Poten­tials) ante­dates and could help pre­dict Alzheimer’s Dis­ease symp­toms 10 to 15 years in advance.

4. Neu­roin­for­mat­ics will dri­ve mas­sive change — not just in brain health care, but in health­care over­all. Our knowl­edge of brain func­tions is being great­ly expand­ed through the large-scale col­lec­tion and stor­age of brain sig­nals in mas­sive data­bas­es, and data analy­sis is deliv­er­ing an increas­ing­ly deep­er under­stand­ing of how our brain, cog­ni­tion and behav­ior are inter­re­lat­ed, and how to per­son­al­ize inter­ven­tions based on objec­tive mark­ers. Col­lect­ing and seg­ment­ing big vol­umes of data to build rel­e­vant pro­files and knowl­edge was thus a major con­cern of many speak­ers, with one of the sum­mit ses­sions focused on this par­tic­u­lar top­ic. Dr. Robert Bilder, Chief of Med­ical Psy­chol­o­gy at UCLA Semel Insti­tute for Neu­ro­science, talked about the con­sid­er­able amount of data that they are col­lect­ing from as much bio­da­ta sen­sors as pos­si­ble on patients and users. Dr Gor­don stressed the need to stan­dard­ize data col­lec­tion and analy­sis, and Dr. San­dra Chap­man at UT-Dal­las rein­forced the crit­i­cal point that “there is no health with­out brain health.” Col­lect­ing big amount of data is becom­ing eas­i­er to set­up thanks to cloud-based applications.

All in all, the exten­sive con­ver­sa­tions at the 2012 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit, and the con­verg­ing work of the many indus­try and sci­en­tif­ic pio­neers who par­tic­i­pat­ed, high­light­ed the need and the very real­is­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty to mon­i­tor and ana­lyze brain activ­i­ty in scal­able and cost-effi­cient ways, and to per­son­al­ize  brain health pre­ven­tion and inter­ven­tions based on objec­tive data. Or, as the Sum­mit tagline promised, to Opti­mize Health through Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, Inno­va­tion and Data.

- Yann Renard is is CTO and co-founder of Men­sia Tech­nolo­gies. He led Open­ViBE soft­ware devel­op­ment at INRIA for 5 years and is now devel­op­ing an online plat­form for real­time brain sig­nal pro­cess­ing, visu­al­i­sa­tion and train­ing at Men­sia Technologies.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

Top Articles on Brain Health and Neuroplasticity

Top 10 Brain Teasers and Illusions


Subscribe to our e-newsletter

* indicates required

Got the book?