Brain science is complex, so ElMindA CEO Ronen Gadot likes to use a metaphor: Imagine your brain as a network of city streets. Medical imaging technology like the MRI gave us the ability to see the roadways; it couldn’t show us the ebb and flow of traffic. But ElMindA’s BNA device does, and received FDA clearance last July. It sits on the head like a hairnet, as up to 256 electrodes wrap around the skull to observe the billions of neurons firing off every second that you think, talk, or breathe. That enables it to monitor how brain networks respond to each other and to conditions such as depression, pain, or memory loss. Or, as Gadot ends the metaphor: “If there’s a traffic jam, we can detect it and find better interventions to open up those clogs.”
The technology is a huge breakthrough for brain research and potentially life-changing for the 2 billion people worldwide living with brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ADHD. ElMindA has been working on the technology since 2006, and a few years ago the company realized it had an even broader range of uses than originally expected, like disease progression and recovery from head injury. It’s now being used at major sports-medicine facilities such as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, University of Michigan, and Athletico, a company that treats Chicago’s professional athletes.
In addition, for the first time, researchers can see the difference between how a brain responds to a drug versus a placebo. Gadot says this is only the beginning of what the device can do. “If the microscope wasn’t invented, we wouldn’t be able to see germs, infections, or be able to diagnose cancer,” he says. “The more we can see, the more we can affect functionality.” Could that ever become creepy? Sure, Gadot says: With enough understanding of the brain, we might be able to enhance creativity or even improve memories. For now, that’s still the realm of science fiction—but saving people with brain disorders may soon become our reality.
ElMindA’s founder and CTO, Amir Geva, meets President Obama while wearing the brain-scanning device on his head: