Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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