Using Your Head: What is the Future of Brain Health? (Interview Part 2)

Into_The_Future(Edi­tor’s Note: this is Part 2 of the con­ver­sa­tion between David Coleiro and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez on the future of brain health. You can read Part 1 Here)

Non-inva­sive technologies
There is now a grow­ing toolk­it of non-inva­sive tech­nolo­gies which can be used in brain train­ing. Exam­ples of these include:

  • Emo­tiv and Neu­rosky: Have devel­oped a chip that can mea­sure brain activ­i­ty and sim­pli­fy EEG feed­back. This has pre­vi­ous­ly been an expen­sive and cum­ber­some tech­nol­o­gy, used by many clin­i­cians but one which has nev­er been stan­dard­ised or val­i­dat­ed. The plat­form sim­pli­fies data gath­er­ing and analy­sis to mea­sure brain activ­i­ty. This tech­nol­o­gy was ini­tial­ly devel­oped to add func­tion­al­i­ty in video gam­ing but is now mov­ing into health and well­ness applications.
  • Cogmed: Have a pro­to­col for ‘work­ing mem­o­ry’ train­ing, which is cur­rent­ly the inter­ven­tion with the great­est evi­dence base; it is start­ing to be adopt­ed by schools along­side a suite of some of the best paper and pen cog­ni­tive assessments.
  • Aten­tiv (qEEG): Have devel­oped a more sophis­ti­cat­ed method to mea­sure brain activ­i­ty to deal with symp­toms derived from ADHD. They have recent­ly received fund­ing from the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment for a research project led by Duke Uni­ver­si­ty, to explore the impact of large scale tech­nol­o­gy interventions.

Par­a­digm shift
One poten­tial bar­ri­er has been that unlike car­dio­vas­cu­lar health for exam­ple, the field has lacked mea­sures that are well under­stood and replic­a­ble, so that we can under­stand good and bad per­for­mance as well as changes over time. How­ev­er, we are at the ear­ly stages of a par­a­digm shift in tech­nol­o­gy that should enable the use of acces­si­ble, long-term mark­ers, mea­sures and mon­i­tor­ing of brain health such as cog­ni­tive sta­tus and pro­cess­ing speed.

For exam­ple, anoth­er com­pa­ny, Brain Resource, has devel­oped a com­pre­hen­sive and stan­dard­ised list of input and out­put data points, which can track large pop­u­la­tions. This is intend­ed to help per­son­alise med­i­cines aimed at improv­ing brain func­tion or cog­ni­tion, and pro­vide real world evi­dence on the impact of inter­ven­tions. It is cur­rent­ly being fund­ed by the Euro­pean Union to apply its plat­form to depres­sion and ADHD, to explore how we can bet­ter tar­get and per­son­alise interventions.

These inno­va­tions also pro­vide the poten­tial to lever­age the col­lec­tion of large lon­gi­tu­di­nal datasets, to accel­er­ate brain research. Hav­ing the tools and datasets to estab­lish a cog­ni­tive base­line and mon­i­tor peo­ple over time, will improve diag­no­sis, treat­ment (due to the abil­i­ty to per­son­alise inter­ven­tion to spe­cif­ic sets of co-mor­bidi­ties) and patient engagement.

This explo­sion of inno­va­tion is also dri­ving a dif­fer­ent mind­set in health­care, with a more holis­tic view of health ful­ly incor­po­rat­ing brain health. A major hos­pi­tal in San­ta Bar­bara is fun­da­men­tal­ly chang­ing its approach to help­ing peo­ple with Alzheimer’s, a dis­ease where once diag­nosed, it is usu­al­ly too late to have any sig­nif­i­cant impact. They have launched a new cen­tre for cog­ni­tive health, with the aim of engag­ing con­sumers across their life­time, remov­ing the stig­ma of brain health so that their patients do not just engage with the ser­vices when they have a prob­lem or symp­toms, but to encour­age them to be more active and healthy in the same way peo­ple think of phys­i­cal fit­ness – so it becomes more of a life­long activity.

The con­ver­gence of these devel­op­ments will change the way health­care is deliv­ered. In the future we could all have an annu­al men­tal health check-up, using com­put­erised neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal met­rics; light and inex­pen­sive in terms of both user and health sys­tem, but pro­vid­ing data that will inform care deci­sions, and cost-effec­tive inter­ven­tions to help main­tain brain health.

Per­son­al­ly, as I get old­er, I am reas­sured and excit­ed by that. Pro­fes­sion­al­ly, I am more con­vinced than ever that the next few years will be a huge­ly excit­ing time in brain health research, and I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing work­ing with our clients and part­ners to play a small part in that story.

David Coleiro is a found­ing part­ner at, and this inter­view is adapt­ed from the book Strate­gic Tales by Strate­gic North. To request your free copy please email them at

For more infor­ma­tion on Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Sharp­Brains work you can read the recent TED­Week­ends arti­cle Retool­ing Brain Care with Low-cost, Data-dri­ven Tech­nolo­gies, and the new mar­ket report “The Dig­i­tal Brain Health Mar­ket 2012–2020: Web-based, mobile and bio­met­rics-based tech­nol­o­gy to assess, mon­i­tor and enhance cog­ni­tion and brain func­tion­ing,”

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.

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