By Maayan Jaffe
It was one year ago this month that President Barack Obama announced plans for a landmark effort to better understand the workings of the brain. It was seven years before then that a now-burgeoning company in Herzliya, Israel began developing the groundbreaking brain mapping and imaging technology that will play a critical role in achieving the president’s ambitious goal by helping detect and manage a host of brain-related disorders and conditions.
ElMindA’s Brain Network Activation (BNA) takes cognitive-electrophysiology (ERPs) to a new frontier, unparalleled by any other test. Next week, roughly 14,000 people will be able to learn more about this breakthrough technology at the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference from March 2-4. ElMindA was selected to exhibit its technology over hundreds of other Israeli companies.
Ronen Gadot, CEO of ElMindA, explained in an interview with JNS.org that the seeds for the company were planted 35 years ago, with the preliminary research done by Ben-Gurion University Professor Amir Geva, a graduate of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He said the BNA technology is based on non-invasive recordings of multi-channel electrocephalography (EEG) event-related potentials (ERPs), and a comprehensive multi-dimensional analysis of such recordings. The BNA algorithms use innovative sets of signal processing, pattern recognition, clustering, and machine-learning techniques to seek and map activated neural pathways in task-related data points with respect to multiple dimensions, including time, location, amplitude, and frequency. The BNA platform architecture is based on three elements: a data acquisition site, BNA analysis software, and cloud-based big-data management and reporting tools.
“Such information can be vital to making progress against a host of disorders and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and Traumatic Brain Injury and to improving health and well being for hundreds of millions of people throughout the globe,” Gadot said.
Today, two billion people suffer from brain-related disorders, including developmental problems (autism and ADHD, for example), neurological disorders (brain injuries, epilepsy), mental problems, and neurodegenerative disorders. But understanding these diseases and disorders can be highly complicated – because the brain is complicated, said Gadot.
“The human brain is a highly complex multilayered organ composed of many billions of neurons, organized into complicated interconnecting neural networks. Typically each neuron is connected to tens of thousands of other neurons through connections called synapses. Electrochemical signals that are passed between neurons through these synapses allow them to communicate,” explained Gadot, noting that until ElMindA there was no way to properly analyze and explain these signals.
Other tests, such as ImPACT evaluation, are affected by environmental (subjective) factors such as fatigue, hunger or other distractions and can be “gamed” by the athlete taking them. MRIs take pictures, but even after applying “fancy techniques,” we can only look at how the brain is using energy and in what pattern.
“It’s like a Google map,” Gadot elaborated. “If you look at a map it will help you understand how to get from one place to another. But it does not show traffic, congestion. Looking at the structure of the brain is like looking at the map itself. … Brain disorders cause a change in traffic, in flow of information. We are looking at the traffic.”
Concussions are the most common brain injury, affecting as many as 3.8 million people in the United States, according to some studies. Given the great variability in symptoms and presentations, the clinical diagnosis of concussions is particularly difficult. Additionally, once a concussion is diagnosed determining when the patient is clear to return to full activity is an even bigger challenge.
“Until now… physicians tried to estimate it by looking at symptoms, at cognitive problems – slow reaction, attention issues. But sometimes while the symptoms would get better, the brain was not fully recovered. Growing evidence shows that going back to play or hitting the head before full brain recovery can cause permanent brain damage,” said Gadot.
This past fall, 150 youth hockey players participated in an ElMindA clinical research study to measure changes in BNA during the sport season in both concussed and non-concussed athletes as compared to preseason BNA baseline scores. In addition, the study correlated the BNA test score over the course of the hockey season in both concussed and non-concussed athletes to the current standard of care measures. The research was used much like an x-ray to tell not only when during the season a player had a concussion, but also when a player did not. Those results will be available this spring.
Dr. Sarah Haecker, whose son Hudson plays hockey on a Minnesota team, pushed to launch the study in her hometown. In an interview with CBS, Haecker said her son was diagnosed with a concussion in the previous season and was back on the ice two weeks later.
“If I could have had the ability to use this test or see this test last year after the hit, it would have been a huge relief to me,” she told CBS. “As a mom, it takes the pressure off of me to determine when I think he should be able to go back.”
The BNA test takes about 40 minutes. Doctors can read and interpret the results instantly. ElMindA has tested 1,000 people in concussion research over the last several years, including hundreds with diagnosed concussions.
“We have a much better sense of what is going on in people’s brains now than three years ago,” he said.
ElMindA is working in conjunction with a group of top Israeli partners, including those in academia, neurotech companies and the government. It has partnered with some of the leading academic, medical and industrial partners in America, including Harvard Medical School, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the University of Michigan, among others. The BNA technology is currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Our vision is that our brain health will take a more significant part in our general health,” said Gadot. “With assistance of tools like ours, we will be able to better monitor the health of our brain on a regular basis and develop better treatments.”
Maayan Jaffe is a freelance writer based in Overland Park, Kan. Email Maayan at firstname.lastname@example.org.