10 Ways To Improve Health & Well-being Based On Latest Non-Invasive Neurotechnologies


Last month I had the for­tune to join over 1,900 pio­neers from 90 coun­tries at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum’s Annu­al Meet­ing in Tian­jin, Chi­na, to dis­cuss how inno­va­tion can improve the state of the world.

Through­out hun­dreds of pan­els, work­shops, pri­vate meet­ings and social gath­er­ings, we exam­ined how to deal with cli­mate change, how to invest in pub­lic infra­struc­ture, how to bet­ter reg­u­late finan­cial ser­vices, and dozens of oth­er press­ing top­ics. In address­ing these issues, every­one — inde­pen­dent of nation­al­i­ty or dis­ci­pline – brought to the table our most pre­cious asset: the amaz­ing Human Brain.

Dur­ing stim­u­lat­ing and cap­ti­vat­ing ses­sions we explored the new fron­tiers in neu­ro­science. A promi­nent focus was around how emerg­ing neu­rotech­nolo­gies, such as those enabled by the White House BRAIN Ini­tia­tive, will help detect and record brain activ­i­ty in unprece­dent­ed detail and, there­fore, rev­o­lu­tion­ize our knowl­edge of the brain and the mind.

BrainSession_WEFIn par­al­lel, high-rank­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials and health experts con­vened to brain­storm about how to “max­i­mize healthy life years.” The con­ver­sa­tion revolved around phys­i­cal health and pro­mot­ing pos­i­tive lifestyles, but was large­ly silent on the sub­jects of cog­ni­tive or emo­tion­al health. The brain, that key asset every­one needs to learn, prob­lem-solve and make good-deci­sions, and the asso­ci­at­ed cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sciences where so much progress has occurred over the last two decades, are still large­ly absent from the health agenda.

What if exist­ing brain research and non-inva­sive neu­rotech­nolo­gies could be applied to improve pub­lic health and well-being? How can we begin build­ing bet­ter bridges between exist­ing sci­ence and tech­nolo­gies and the real-world health chal­lenges we’re facing?

Good news is that a trans­for­ma­tion is already under­way, albeit under the radar. As William Gib­son elo­quent­ly said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very even­ly dis­trib­uted.” Indi­vid­u­als and insti­tu­tions world­wide are expect­ed to spend over $1.3 bil­lion in 2014 in web-based, mobile and bio­met­rics-based solu­tions to assess and enhance brain func­tion. Growth is poised to con­tinue, fueled by emerg­ing mobile and non-inva­sive neu­rotech­nolo­gies, and by con­sumer and patient demands for self-dri­ven, proac­tive brain care. For exam­ple, 83% of sur­veyed ear­ly-adopters agree that “adults of all ages should take charge of their own brain fit­ness, with­out wait­ing for their doc­tors to tell them to” and “would per­son­ally take a brief assess­ment every year as an annu­al men­tal check-up.”

NeuroRevolution sessionThese are 10 pri­or­i­ties to con­sid­er, if we want to improve health & well-being based on the lat­est neu­ro­science and non-inva­sive neurotechnology:

  1. Trans­form the men­tal health frame­work, from a con­stel­la­tion of diag­noses such as anx­i­ety, depres­sion, ADHD…to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and strength­en­ing of the spe­cif­ic brain cir­cuits (“cells that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er”) that may be defi­cient. This is what the Research Domain Cri­te­ria frame­work, put forth by the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health, is start­ing to do.
  2. Bring med­i­ta­tive prac­tices to the main­stream, via school-based and cor­po­rate pro­grams, and lever­ag­ing rel­a­tive­ly-inex­pen­sive bio­met­ric systems
  3. Coopt per­va­sive activ­i­ties, such as play­ing videogames…but in a way that ensures they have a ben­e­fi­cial effect, such as with cog­ni­tive train­ing games specif­i­cal­ly designed to pro­long cog­ni­tive vital­i­ty as we age
  4. Offer web-based psy­chother­a­pies as first-line inter­ven­tions for depres­sion and anx­i­ety (and prob­a­bly insom­nia), as rec­om­mend­ed by the UK’s Nation­al Insti­tute for Health and Care Excellence.
  5. Mon­i­tor the neg­a­tive cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al side-effects from a vari­ety of med­ical inter­ven­tions, to ensure unin­ten­tion­al effects from the cure are not more afflic­tive than the treat­ed person’s orig­i­nal con­di­tion. Giv­en that the US Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion just cleared an inno­v­a­tive mobile brain health assess­ment, what pre­vents wider use of base­line assess­ments and active mon­i­tor­ing of cog­ni­tion as an indi­vid­ual begins a par­tic­u­lar treat­ment pro­gram or medication?
  6. Com­bine phar­ma­co­log­i­cal inter­ven­tions (bot­tom-up) with cog­ni­tive train­ing (top-down) such as the Cog­niFit – Bay­er part­ner­ship for patients with Mul­ti­ple Sclerosis
  7. Update reg­u­la­to­ry frame­works to facil­i­tate safe adop­tion of con­sumer-fac­ing neu­rotech­nolo­gies.  Start-up Thync  just raised $13 mil­lion to mar­ket tran­scra­nial stim­u­la­tion in 2015, help­ing users “alter their state of mind.” That’s not a med­ical claim per se…but does the tech­nol­o­gy need to be reg­u­lat­ed as a med­ical device?
  8. Invest more research dol­lars to fine-tune brain stim­u­la­tion meth­ods, such as tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic stim­u­la­tion, to enable tru­ly per­son­al­ized medicine.
  9. Adopt big data research mod­els, such as the new­ly-announced UCSF Brain Health Reg­istry, to leapfrog the exist­ing small clin­i­cal tri­al mod­el and move us clos­er towards deliv­er­ing per­son­al­ized, inte­grat­ed brain care.
  10. And, last but cer­tain­ly not least, pro­mote phys­i­cal exer­cise and bilin­gual edu­ca­tion in our schools, and reduce drop-out rates. Improv­ing and enrich­ing our schools is per­haps the most pow­er­ful social inter­ven­tion (and the orig­i­nal non-inva­sive neu­rotech­nol­o­gy) to build­ life­long brain reserve and delay prob­lems brought by cog­ni­tive aging and dementia.

If we want every cit­i­zen to adopt more pos­i­tive lifestyles, espe­cial­ly as we face longer and more demand­ing lives, it is imper­a­tive that we bet­ter empow­er and equip our­selves with the right cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al resources and tools. Ini­tia­tives such as those above are a sig­nif­i­cant start to view and treat the human brain as an asset to invest in across the entire human lifes­pan, and to tru­ly max­i­mize years of healthy, func­tion­al and mean­ing­ful living.

Let’s strength­en exist­ing bridges — and build need­ed new ones — to improve our col­lec­tive health and well-being.

– Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, named a Young Glob­al Leader by the World Eco­nom­ic Forum , is the Pro­duc­er of the 2014 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit (Octo­ber 28–30th, 2014), designed to dis­cuss these pri­or­i­ties, and many more.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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