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Five Essential Guidelines to Improve Brain Health for All

Since 2010, the Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit has been bring­ing togeth­er neu­ro­sci­en­tists, entre­pre­neurs, and prac­ti­tion­ers with a mis­sion to improve men­tal health­care, brain per­for­mance and gen­er­al well-being.

As we get ready to host our next col­lec­tive brain­storm­ing next week, let us share some key themes from our last Sum­mit, since they helped shape the Agen­da for this one.

In 2017, the gathering’s tone was gen­er­al­ly optimistic–given the explo­sion of sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs, start-ups and investments–but impor­tant eth­i­cal con­cerns were also wide­ly dis­cussed.

1. The Need is Very Real, Very Large and Largely Unmet

Dr. Tom Insel, a well-known sci­en­tist turned pol­i­cy-mak­er turned entre­pre­neur, shared a deep dive into the land­scape of health­care inno­va­tion: We have seen $15 Bil­lion invest­ed in Health Tech since 2012, in over a thou­sand new com­pa­nies … yet men­tal health­care has not tru­ly evolved while brain and men­tal dis­or­ders remain among the costli­est con­di­tions in the US, with an annu­al bur­den esti­mat­ed at $200+ Bil­lion.

 

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Same thing regard­ing aging and brain health: the need is very real and very large, both in devel­oped and in emerg­ing coun­tries. At least there we see stronger signs of advo­cates and pol­i­cy­mak­ers begin­ning to take note. For exam­ple, Sarah Lenz Lock from AARP spoke about the need for improved dig­i­tal assess­ments that are evi­dence-based and per­son­al­ized, help­ing mil­lions of old­er adults self-mon­i­tor their brain health and delay cog­ni­tive and mem­o­ry prob­lems.

 

A num­ber of researchers shared pop­u­la­tion-lev­el ways to pro­mote life­long brain health. For exam­ple, Belén Guer­ra-Car­ril­lo at UC-Berke­ley dis­cussed how Big Data com­ing from new online and mobile plat­forms can inform pol­i­cy. Dr. David Bartrés-Faz from the Barcelona Brain Health Ini­tia­tive described how track­ing behaviors–that sus­tain neur­al func­tion­ing in advanced age—can help per­son­al­ize inter­ven­tions, and how they are mea­sur­ing lifestyle fac­tors in a large, 3,000-subject-strong, ran­dom­ized tri­al.

 

2. Solutions Start with Early Detection and Digital Phenotyping

A very inge­nious pre­sen­ta­tions came from Jan Samzelius of Neu­raMetrix, one of the win­ners of the Brain­no­va­tions Pitch Con­test. His team, with a back­ground in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty, dis­cov­ered a method of assess­ing typ­ing cadence which could enable ear­ly detec­tion of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, from Alzheimer’s Dis­ease to Parkinson’s. The sys­tem can run silent­ly (yes, per­mis­sion and pri­va­cy will be issues to address) in the back­ground of a per­son­al com­put­er or smart­phone, inte­grat­ing hun­dreds of vari­ables in a per­sons’ key­board cadence and flag­ging unusu­al pat­terns.

Anoth­er great exam­ple came from Nan­cy Briefs of Dig­i­tal Cog­ni­tion Tech­nolo­gies, which has adapt­ed a tra­di­tion­al neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal test (the ‘Clock Draw­ing Task’) and com­bined it with machine learn­ing to pro­vide fast, afford­able, and scal­able detec­tion of cog­ni­tive changes.

Mind­strong Health has been at the fore­front of dig­i­tal phe­no­typ­ing. Dr. Tom Insel dis­cussed how ‘dig­i­tal exhaust’ –data tak­en from smart phones– can be used to pro­vide objec­tive, con­tin­u­ous, and proac­tive mark­ers of mood, cog­ni­tion, and behav­ior. The firm has found that vari­ables extract­ed through machine learn­ing are as good at pre­dict­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion as the test-retest reli­a­bil­i­ty of numer­ous cog­ni­tive tests, pre­sent­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for scal­able and non­in­va­sive solu­tions to detect men­tal health dis­or­ders.  Fur­ther, the infor­ma­tion gained from these meth­ods could be used by clin­i­cians and patients not only to enable ear­ly inter­ven­tion but also to mon­i­tor progress over time, some­thing that is rarely done today.

3. And continue with Lifestyle and Digital Health/ Medicine interventions

The upcom­ing ‘dig­i­tal cav­al­ry,’ as described by Dr. Oliv­er Har­ri­son from Tele­fon­i­ca Inno­va­tion, will be high­ly com­ple­men­tary to the ear­ly detec­tion and dig­i­tal phe­no­typ­ing ini­tia­tives out­lined above.

For exam­ple, Dr. Eddie Mar­tuc­ci of Akili Inter­ac­tive Labs shared find­ings from a recent­ly-pub­lished ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al (RCT) sup­port­ing the use of ‘pre­scrip­tion’ video games to tar­get symp­toms of atten­tion deficit hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty dis­or­der (ADHD), while rep­re­sen­ta­tives at Click Ther­a­peu­tics, Sin­cro­lab, and Myn­dY­ou out­lined a new wave of per­son­al­ized cog­ni­tive training/ ther­a­py pro­grams. Going fur­ther, researchers at Neu­roscape and UCSF pre­sent­ed vir­tu­al and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty plat­forms for mul­ti­modal bio-sens­ing, adap­tive eval­u­a­tion and brain-body train­ing, which could well help upgrade brain health­care and cog­ni­tive rehab in the near term.

 

 

Some of the ideas dis­cussed were sim­ple yet high­ly inspired. Dr. Albert Kwon and col­leagues at Aug­men­tX craft­ed an aug­ment­ed real­i­ty adap­ta­tion of mir­ror box ther­a­py to poten­tial­ly pro­vide home-based treat­ment for stroke vic­tims. Emma Yang, the youngest Speak­er being just 13-years old, unveiled Time­less — a dig­i­tal app using arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to help per­sons with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease to remem­ber events, stay con­nect­ed, and engage with friends and fam­i­ly.

4. Open issues: data security, privacy, equity

While explor­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties, Sum­mit par­tic­i­pants also detailed the con­cerns over data secu­ri­ty, pri­va­cy, equi­ty, and ethics.

Dr. Simone Schurle at ETH Zurich sur­veyed bio­med­ical sys­tems for neu­ro-mon­i­tor­ing and inter­ven­tion and issued a pow­er­ful call for respon­si­ble devel­op­ment: new plat­forms and devices can pro­duce great good in health care, but also have the capac­i­ty for mis­use and harm.

 

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Dr. Álvaro Pas­cual-Leone at Har­vard Med­ical School dis­cussed state-of-the-art neu­ro­mod­u­la­tion, which offers a sig­nif­i­cant and large­ly untapped oppor­tu­ni­ty, while Dr. Anna Wexler from Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia high­light­ed real-world issues expe­ri­enced by home-based users and cham­pi­oned the need for bet­ter eco­log­i­cal research and cus­tomer pro­tec­tion, giv­en the onrush of ‘do-it-your­self’ home devices and loose­ly reg­u­lat­ed prod­ucts.

Mul­ti­ple speak­ers dis­cussed major con­cerns regard­ing pri­va­cy and per­son­al auton­o­my raised by big data plat­forms, and poten­tials way for­ward.

5. The Time to Engage is Now

Giv­en every­thing dis­cussed above, now is the prime moment for change­mak­ers, investors, clin­i­cians and allied health­care pro­fes­sion­als to engage with the dig­i­tal brain health rev­o­lu­tion in ways that can ben­e­fit all.

Sig­nif­i­cant advances are com­ing, have come, and will con­tin­ue to come. Researchers, inno­va­tors and prac­ti­tion­ers should work togeth­er to direct the flow of the upcom­ing ‘dig­i­tal cav­al­ry’ and shape the Future of Brain Health – togeth­er we can bet­ter rec­og­nize needs, pro­vide feed­back on imple­men­ta­tion, and make sure that those who suf­fer receive actu­al ben­e­fits.

At the same time, we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy and pre­empt eth­i­cal con­cerns and to guide respon­si­ble devel­op­ment and appro­pri­ate use. If users and pro­fes­sion­als pull back from these advances out of pro­pri­ety con­cerns, turf war, or feel­ings of threat, a great oppor­tu­ni­ty will be lost. Our brain/ men­tal health care prob­lems will only get worse, not bet­ter.

 

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Let’s, togeth­er, explore and dis­cuss how to use every avail­able tool in the toolk­it to address the very real and very unmet needs of 7+ bil­lion peo­ple in the 21st Cen­tu­ry.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez is the CEO & Edi­tor-in-Chief of Sharp­Brains, and Bran­don Frank is a PhD can­di­date at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty with a con­cen­tra­tion in Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy.

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Learn More & Register:

2019 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit: The Future of Brain Health (May 7–9th)

 

Suzhou Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology (SIBET) to host “brain-imaging factory” enabling large-scale, standardized data generation

Recon­struct­ed image show­ing how long-range neu­rons extend across a mouse brain. Luo Q. M./Sci Sin Vitae

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Chi­na launch­es brain-imag­ing fac­to­ry (Nature):

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists who painstak­ing­ly map the twists and turns of neur­al cir­cuit­ry through the brain are about to see their field expand to an indus­tri­al scale. A huge facil­i­ty set to open in Suzhou, Chi­na, next month should trans­form high-res­o­lu­tion brain map­ping, its devel­op­ers say. Read the rest of this entry »

The dual challenge ahead of Facebook’s Typing-by-Brain project: 1) develop the neurotechnology, 2) develop the science

Direc­tor of Typ­ing-by-Brain Project Dis­cuss­es How Face­book Will Get Inside Your Head (IEEE Spec­trum):

When Facebook’s Mark Chevil­let describes the company’s new “typ­ing by brain” ini­tia­tive, he has a way of keep­ing it from sound­ing total­ly crazy Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscientists: Develop digital games to improve brain function and well-being

interactivemediaAuthors: Devel­op dig­i­tal games to improve brain func­tion and well-being (UW-Madi­son News):

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists should help to devel­op com­pelling dig­i­tal games that boost brain func­tion and improve well-being, say two pro­fes­sors spe­cial­iz­ing in the field in a com­men­tary arti­cle pub­lished in the sci­ence jour­nal Nature. In the Feb. 28 issue, the two — Daphne Bave­li­er of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester and Richard J. David­son of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son — urge game design­ers and brain sci­en­tists to work togeth­er to design new games that train the brain, pro­duc­ing pos­i­tive effects on behav­ior, such as decreas­ing anx­i­ety, sharp­en­ing atten­tion and improv­ing empa­thy.”

To Learn More:

 

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts, Learning

Arts edu­ca­tion influ­ences learn­ing and oth­er areas of cog­ni­tion and may deserve a more promi­nent place in schools, accord­ing to a wave of recent neu­ro­science research.One recent study found that chil­dren who receive music instruc­tion for just 15 months show strength­ened con­nec­tions in musi­cal­ly rel­e­vant brain areas and per­form bet­ter on asso­ci­at­ed tasks, com­pared with stu­dents who do not learn an instru­ment.

A sep­a­rate study found that chil­dren who receive train­ing to improve their focus and atten­tion per­form bet­ter not only on atten­tion tasks but also on intel­li­gence tests. Some researchers sug­gest that arts train­ing might sim­i­lar­ly affect a wide range of cog­ni­tive domains. Edu­ca­tors and neu­ro­sci­en­tists gath­ered recent­ly in Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to dis­cuss the increas­ing­ly detailed pic­ture of how arts edu­ca­tion changes the brain, and how to trans­late that research to edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy and the class­room. Many par­tic­i­pants referred to the results of Dana Foun­da­tion-fund­ed research by cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists from sev­en lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties over three years, released in 2008.

Art must do some­thing to the mind and brain. What is that? How would we be able to detect that? asked Bar­ry Gor­don, a behav­ioral neu­rol­o­gist and cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty, who spoke May 8 dur­ing the “Learn­ing and the Brain” con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “Art, I sub­mit to you with­out absolute proof, can improve the pow­er of our minds. How­ev­er, this improve­ment is hard to detect.”

Study links music, brain changes

Among the sci­en­tists try­ing to detect such improve­ment, Ellen Win­ner, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy at Boston Col­lege, and Got­tfried Schlaug, a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at Beth Israel Dea­coness Med­ical Cen­ter and Har­vard Med­ical School, pre­sent­ed research at the “Learn­ing, Arts, and the Brain sum­mit May 6 in Bal­ti­more. Their work mea­sured, for the first time, changes to the brain as a result of music train­ing.

For four years, Win­ner and Schlaug fol­lowed chil­dren ages 9 to 11, some of whom Read the rest of this entry »

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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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