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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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