Scientists, entrepreneurs in Chicago area tackle ‘brain hacking’

March 3, 2017, by Ted Gregory

Link to article

Selection: “Marom Bikson is optimistic and pragmatic. A biomedical engineering professor and co-director of Neural Engineering at the City College of New York, Bikson said it is clear that tDCS can change the brain. Many prospective users are unwilling to wait for lengthy human trials and related research before trying the technology.

“Among scientists who are incredulous or skeptical, the concern is often that we’re moving too fast,” Bikson said. But people who are suffering from depression, chronic pain and cognitive decline “have a different time scale,” he said. “They don’t have 10 years, and I don’t blame them for looking for alternatives.”


Shown equipment by Soterix Medical.



Brain-Hackers Vie to Enhance Human Performance

Wall Street Journal, Feb 24, 2017


Full article link

Abridged article:

Hacking software or network-connected devices is so 21st century. A new crop of forward-thinking entrepreneurs wants to hack the ultimate computer: the brain.

Enhancing or altering the brain with technology may sound like a concept for the cyborgs of science fiction, but Silicon Valley startups are already at it—with venture capitalists’ backing. A range of noninvasive wearable devices have hit the consumer market using electrical stimulation to sharpen physical and mental performance or to improve relaxation….

Interest in brain devices fits squarely within Silicon Valley’s ever-growing do-it-yourself biohacking and quantified-self movement, where people obsessively measure everything from their carbohydrate intake to mental acuity to sleep patterns. And the trend ties in with popular millennial pursuits like meditation, mindfulness and nontraditional remedies including nootropics.

In Silicon Valley, where tech executives are always seeking an edge, brain hackers have found a willing market for experimentation as a natural extension of that impulse.

Los Gatos, Calif.-based Thync has raised about $23 million from Noosphere Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, according to PitchBook. The company says its $199 device can improve sleep and reduce stress. It second version, due out this spring, attaches to the back of the neck instead of the head….

Several startups’ devices rely on sending electric pulses into the brain, a process called tDCS that hasn’t been approved for medical use in the U.S. While that stimulation has been found safe in a laboratory environment, the benefits in consumer devices are unclear because of a lack of independent studies, according to Rachel Wurzman, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation….

Startup Halo Neuroscience’s headset aims to improve athletic performance. The device sends electric fields into the brain’s motor cortex, creating a state of “hyperplasticity” which, when combined with athletic training, helps the brain more quickly build circuitry to interact with muscles, improving technique and explosiveness, said co-founder and Chief Executive Daniel Chao.

Users wear the $749 device, which looks like a pair of headphones, for 20 minutes before a workout. The San Francisco company has raised $9 million from Lux Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Jazz Venture Partners, SoftTech VC and Xfund. Its athlete-endorsers include Demario Davis of the Cleveland Browns and T.J. Carrie of the Oakland Raiders.

Halo has focused on professional athletes but is targeting consumers who are performance athletes or enthusiasts, as opposed to casual athletes, said Mr. Chao, who previously worked at a medical-device startup that used electric stimulation to treat epilepsy….

While the use of brain stimulation is based on genuine science, it doesn’t necessarily back up marketing by consumer brands, said Marom Bikson, a professor of biomedical engineering at the City College of New York, who has done studies on Thync and co-founded medical-device startup Soterix Medical.

“There’s unquestionably scientific studies done in controlled environments that suggest that tDCS can change cognition and change how people think or can change learning,” Mr. Bikson said. “Some claims may be made by some companies that are maybe more advanced than where a lot of the scientists may be comfortable.”


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Mechanisms and Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Dose-Response: An International Journal January-March 2017:1-22 DOI: 10.1177/1559325816685467

James Giordano, Marom Bikson, Emily S. Kappenman, Vincent P. Clark, H. Branch Coslett, Michael R. Hamblin, Roy Hamilton, Ryan Jankord, Walter J. Kozumbo, R. Andrew McKinley, Michael A. Nitsche, J. Patrick Reilly, Jessica Richardson, Rachel Wurzman, and Edward Calabrese

Abstract: The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research convened a meeting of researchers in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, engineering, and medicine to discuss most pressing issues facing ongoing research in the field of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and related techniques. In this study, we present opinions prepared by participants of the meeting, focusing on the most promising areas of research, immediate and future goals for the field, and the potential for hormesis theory to inform tDCS research. Scientific, medical, and ethical considerations support the ongoing testing of tDCS in healthy and clinical popu- lations, provided best protocols are used to maximize safety. Notwithstanding the need for ongoing research, promising appli- cations include enhancing vigilance/attention in healthy volunteers, which can accelerate training and support learning. Commonly, tDCS is used as an adjunct to training/rehabilitation tasks with the goal of leftward shift in the learning/treatment effect curves. Although trials are encouraging, elucidating the basic mechanisms of tDCS will accelerate validation and adoption. To this end, biomarkers (eg, clinical neuroimaging and findings from animal models) can support hypotheses linking neurobiological mechanisms and behavioral effects. Dosage can be optimized using computational models of current flow and understanding dose–response. Both biomarkers and dosimetry should guide individualized interventions with the goal of reducing variability. Insights from other applied energy domains, including ionizing radiation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and low-level laser (light) therapy, can be prudently leveraged.

Download: Final OnLine Proceedings – Dose Response Journal

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Computational models of Bitemporal, Bifrontal and Right Unilateral ECT predict differential stimulation of brain regions associated with efficacy and cognitive side effects.

Bai S, Gálvez V, Dokos S, Martin D, Bikson M, Loo C.
Eur Psychiatry. 2016 Dec 29;41:21-29. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2016.09.005. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 28049077

Full paper: 10.1016@j.eurpsy.2016.09.005


BACKGROUND: Extensive clinical research has shown that the efficacy and cognitive outcomes of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are determined, in part, by the type of electrode placement used. Bitemporal ECT (BT, stimulating electrodes placed bilaterally in the frontotemporal region) is the form of ECT with relatively potent clinical and cognitive side effects. However, the reasons for this are poorly understood.
OBJECTIVE: This study used computational modelling to examine regional differences in brain excitation between BT, Bifrontal (BF) and Right Unilateral (RUL) ECT, currently the most clinically-used ECT placements. Specifically, by comparing similarities and differences in current distribution patterns between BT ECT and the other two placements, the study aimed to create an explanatory model of critical brain sites that mediate antidepressant efficacy and sites associated with cognitive, particularly memory, adverse effects.
METHODS: High resolution finite element human head models were generated from MRI scans of three subjects. The models were used to compare differences in activation between the three ECT placements, using subtraction maps.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: In this exploratory study on three realistic head models, Bitemporal ECT resulted in greater direct stimulation of deep midline structures and also left temporal and inferior frontal regions. Interpreted in light of existing knowledge on depressive pathophysiology and cognitive neuroanatomy, it is suggested that the former sites are related to efficacy and the latter to cognitive deficits. We hereby propose an approach using binarised subtraction models that can be used to optimise, and even individualise, ECT therapies

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Thursday, February 09, 2017, 03:30PM, The City College of New York (CCNY) NAC 4/156

Prof. Luca Parra (CCNY Biomedical Engineering), On Brainwaves and Videos and Video Games 

What are the immediate neural response of the brain to natural stimuli, in particular audiovisual narratives and video games? To answer this question we record EEG while subjects are exposed to the identical audiovisual narratives and measure inter-subject correlation, which captures how similarly and reliably different people respond to the same natural stimulus. We find that inter-subject correlation of EEG is strongly modulated by attention, correlates with long term memory, and provides a quantitative estimate for “audience engagement”. In children and adolescents watching videos we find changes with age and gender that are consistent with an increase in diversity of brain responses as they mature. During video game play, which are unique experiences that preclude correlation across subjects, we measure the strength of stimulus-response correlations instead. We found that correlation with both auditory and visual responses drive the correlation observed between subjects for video and that they are are modulated by attention in video game play. Importantly, the strongest response to visual and auditory features had nearly identical neural origin suggesting that the dominant response of the brain to natural stimuli is supramodal.