Neuroelectrics was crowned the winner of the Bupa Startup Stage at WIRED Health 2015, beating a range of cutting-edge innovations including cancer-detecting sniffer dogs, a natural birth-control app and a handheld device for tracking stress levels.
The US and Spain-based company presented its range of wireless telemedicine platforms, designed to stimulate and treat the brain. It claims the devices can help patients recover from a number of serious health issues, such as strokes, epilepsy and severe depression.
Founded in Barcelona in 2012 by Ana Maiques and Giulio Ruffini, the company has created what it believes is a “game changer” for neuroscience, the Neuroelectrics Cap: flexible, easy-to-wear headgear that provides stimulations using EEG (electroencephalography) and tDCS (transcranial Direct Current Stimulation) techniques.
EEG measures electrical differences across points on the scalp. These differences are the result of electrical activity within the brain and are used to analyse brain function. Information garnered from that analysis can help with new therapies and rehabilitation programmes for people suffering from neurological illnesses or trauma.
CEO Maiques says that Neuroelectrics’s vision is to help patients recovering from the neurological symptoms of chronic pain, or those undergoing rehabilitation for strokes. She explains: “We are unique because the headgear can be connected to the cloud and used in the home — say, for three sessions of brain stimulation a week, under the supervision of a doctor.”
Maiques compares Neuroelectrics to the “DIY” ethos of health-tracking technology, such as Fitbit and other wearables. “We have an ageing population dealing with chronic illnesses, but people are also becoming more self-aware when it comes to monitoring their health. We believe these self-monitoring technologies are going to become popular in the home over the next few years.”
Neuroelectrics is already being used for neuropathic treatment in Barcelona and studies are currently being carried out in the US on the effects of EEG treatment on epilepsy and age-related cognitive decline. The company sells its Enobio (wireless EEG system) and Starstim (wireless EEG plus stimulation headgear) in more than 30 countries.
“We currently sell the devices directly to clinics and research centres and patients are then charged for the service each month. But the idea is to make the treatment affordable — around a few hundred pounds a month — and simple to use in the patient’s own home.”
Maiques also explains that the technology has helped children with brain disabilities to achieve improved scores in maths tests, in studies carried out by Roi Cohen Kadosh at the University of Oxford — hinting at the wider benefits the headgear could offer.
However, there are still some potential ethical barriers to Neuroelectrics being used this way. “Kadosh’s studies have shown that even 20 minutes of brain stimulation with EEG can affect other areas of the brain, which is why we’re working with doctors and researchers to ensure the technology is used in the safest and most effective way possible.” Medical regulation may also mean it’s some time before the technology will be available worldwide.
So what does the future hold? “We hope our technology will open the door to a better understanding of the human brain, and help drug companies and other caregivers to improve treatment for neurological conditions using our real-time monitoring.” Maiques hopes that the technology will become a widespread tool in patients’ homes in the next five to ten years.