About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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Brain Waves

Monthly Archives

September 30, 2004

Russia's Alcohol Addiction

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Posted by Zack Lynch

New statistics from Russia concerning use of alcohol were presented at a recent conference in Moscow:

- Russia is 1st in the world for alcohol use at 14.7 liters/person
- Addiction is considered a serious threat to national security
- 71% of boys and 76% of girls use alcohol more than twice a month

If you are interested in learning more about this issue, visit Prevention Partnership.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals

September 27, 2004

ADHD - NeuroImaging Used to Understand $77B problem

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Do you ever lose focus after working for several hours on a project? Are there times when you just can't seem to concentrate anymore? If you answered yes to these questions then you are probably normal. But what is normal? And for that matter what is attention deficit "hyperactivity" disorder, ADHD? According to the DSM, there are sixteen behavioral differences between the two groups.

In a recent Harvard study claimed that ADHD costs Americans suffering from the condition about $77 billion in lost income a year, more than the total costs of drug abuse or depression. Usually considered a childhood disorder, ADHD affects about 8 million U.S. adults and is linked to job loss, lower income, higher divorce rates and more driving accidents, said Dr. Joseph Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

To help understand how the current set of attention focusing cogniceuticals impact normal brains versus those with ADHD, the NIMH recently approved a study that would give normal children and children with ADHD dextromethylphenadate and use neuroimaging techniques to see if there is a different response.

Since there are currently no biomarkers or neuroimaging tests that define ADHD from a neurological perspective, some argue that it doesn't exist. This new trial would add magnetic resonance images to map any differences in brain activation patterns, even though previous studies that attempted to use neuroimaging to define the disorder remain controversial.

While giving normal children these performance focusing cogniceuticals is causing a bit of an ethical stir, Judith Rapoport, chief of child psychology at NIMH, conducted a similar trial 20 years ago. The same stimulant was given to children at a higher dose. Researchers looked only at how the stimulant changed children's behavior as they performed tasks. The stimulant improved attention span in the children, regardless of whether they had ADHD. This time, I guess we'll see where specifically there might be a difference in brain activation between the groups and see if we can make a dent in this profoundly disruptive problem.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 21, 2004

The Global Neuroscience Initiative

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I recently joined the board of advisors of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation.

Established in 2003, the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation is a non-profit charity organization for the advancement of neurological and mental health patient welfare, education, and research. The further brain related studies, end stigmatization and discrimination, improve the well-being of afflicted individuals, promote the free and open-access distribution of brain related information, and institute universal and multidisciplinary distance educational programs.

We are presently accomplishing our mission through the following projects:

- "Knowledge Center" - an article resource for lay persons
- "Brain Sciences & Neuropsychiatry" - an academic and scholarly journal
- "Neuropsychiatry for Kids" - an educational resource for elementary students
- "Living with a Brain Disorder" - unedited insights into the mind of a brain disorder patients
- "Distance Education Division - certificate programs in collaboration with accredited schools, colleges, and universities (like UCLA).

The Initiative is composed solely of volunteers from across the world. I look forward to working with the GNI team to promote a better understanding of mental health worldwide in the coming years. Please visit the GNI website for more information.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Brain Foundations

September 20, 2004

Video Games + Neurofeedback = Better Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The convergence of video games and neurofeedback are improving cognitive-processing capabilities across a wide variety of mental illnesses. Two companies leading this market are Epoch Innovation who provides neurogaming tools for dyslexia and CyberLearning Technology who is using neurofeedback-enhanced versions of off-the-shelf videogames like Ratchet & Clank to help children with attention-deficit disorder.

Neurogaming isn't just for kids, adults can benefit from neurofeedback as well. For example, The Wild Divine Project uses (bio) sensors attached to the fingers to monitor skin conductance and heart-rate variability via the computer's USB port.

At the cutting edge of research into the benefits of neurogaming is UCSF's Sophia Vinogradov. Dr. Vinogradov is investigating how computerized training might help people with schizophrenia learn new thinking and problem-solving skills. Her breakthrough work on neuroscience-guided remediation of cognitive deficits in schizophrenia was recently awarded a $1.1M grant from the NIMH.

It seems that ever since Steven Johnson shared how neurofeedback opened up new ways to understand his implicit reactions to daily events, the neurofeedback meme has been growing stronger. As venture capital continues to pour into companies using neurofeedback to improve software productivity and increase financial trading profitability it is important to realize that even these "non-medical efforts" will translate into more effective neurofeedback solutions to treat mental illnesses. This is the neurotechnology industry at work.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 16, 2004

Neurolaw: The Scales of Justice

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A new report sponsored by the Dana Foundation titled Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice examines the legal issues raised by advances in the study of the human brain, including free will, cognitive enhancement, lie detection, and behavior prediction.

Predicting the future is always a challenge, since one must speculate on both the direction that advances in science and technology will take and on what the impacts of such innovations will be. Among the questions raised by the participants are:

- How will advances in neuroscientific methods for predicting behavior impact the legal system, and how will our society use these advances?
- What would neuroscience-based lie detection mean for witnesses testifying in court?
- How might neuroscientific knowledge put people at risk for discrimination in schools, the workplace, and elsewhere?
- Are there either benefits or risks to justice and society from enhancing or modifying one's brain through pharmacological or other technologies?
- What roles will the legal system play in the societal debate over human enhancement?

Click here for a complimentary 30 page summary of the report. If this topic interests you I recommend visiting these three excellent sources of information on neuropolicy and neuroethics: Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavior, and Stanford's Center for Neuroethics.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropolicy

September 15, 2004

One Pill or Many? Polypharmacy

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A recent WSJ article, Drug Cocktails Hit Psychiatry, details how psychiatrists are currently mixing several different medicines to treat mental illnesses. The article suggests that this practice of polypharmacy grows out of the evolving thinking in psychiatry that mental illness is at least partly rooted in biology.

For example, in certain cases of depression some doctors prescribe both Prozac, which affects serotonin, and Wellbutrin , which works on dopamine and norepinephrine. The article also states that polypharmacy is already common in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

The polypharmacy trend will likely continue during the decade of translation for several reasons. First, current drugs are not specific enough to target the complex neurobiology underlying many mental illnesses. Second, neuropharmaceutical companies are focusing on specific aspects of complex mental illnesses such as cognition, emotions or sensory decline. For example, Saegis is developing cogniceuticals that will be used across a broad array of mental illnesses where memory degradation is present.

While polypharmacy is common practice for cardiovascular problems, many of the drug cocktails that are being prescribed have little historical data about potential negative interactions.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 14, 2004

Curing Mental Illness -- The Decade of Translation

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This last Saturday at the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Thomas Insel share his new vision for the National Institute of Mental Health.

"Building on the Decade of the Brain, we are poised for a Decade of Translation, with new discoveries from genomics, neuroscience, and behavioral science leading to new, more effective treatments, and ultimately to the possibility of preventing and curing mental illness. Our priority setting, new funding strategies, and new organization are designed to optimize the translation of our best science to the service of those with mental and behavioral disorders."

As part of this new focus the NIMH has reorganized its research programs into five divisions (from three), effective October 1, 2004:

1. Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science (DNBBS)
2. Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development (DATR)
3. Division of Pediatric Translational Research and Treatment Development (DPTR)
4. Division of AIDS and Health and Behavior Research (DAHBR)
5. Division of Services and Intervention Research (DSIR)

These changes represent a shift from basic science, such as studies of emotional regulation or cognitive development, to new translational divisions to accelerate the development of tools to help patients.

Tom's talk was inspirational, informative and also a bit depressing. The direct and indirect cost of mental illness in the US easily surpasses $200B/year, yet the NIMH budget to create substantial change remains a drop in the bucket -- increasing from $1.3B to $1.4B this past year. That said, Tom's understanding of where neurotechnology is headed was definitely a breath of fresh air.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Brain Foundations

September 13, 2004

The Future of Neuroesthetics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Semir Zeki recently shared his vision of the future of neuroesthetics and how he hopes that it will help tackle humanity's most complex issues like the neural basis of religious belief and the relation between morality, jurisprudence and brain function. "Like art, these play a critical role in our lives and are also subject to the quality of variability that is at the heart of our civilization."

Closer to home, neuroesthetics will impact fields such as architecture where concepts like the golden section, which is common in classical architectures, might have a deep neurobiological basis that could help us design environments and buildings that soothe the mind.

As Virginia Postrel pointed out recently, hospitals don't have to be ugly. Perhaps we could even make movies more entertaining.

Comments (3) | Category: Neuroesthetics

September 8, 2004

Show Us the Data...Your Life Depends on It Too

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The NYTimes reports today that the editors of several major medical journals, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and The Annals of Internal Medicine "are expected to begin requiring that drug trials be registered at the outset as a prerequisite for the subsequent publication of their results. Requiring such registration as a condition for reaching the journals' vast audience of doctors would make it difficult for drug companies to hide the results of unflattering tests - as some have been accused of doing."

Experts have long criticized the tendency in the industry to publish only positive clinical trials, arguing that this distorts medical practice and undermines the scientific process. Indeed, we cannot practice evidence based medicine unless we have access to all the evidence. Withholding such data is disingenuous at least, and more likely dangerous to patient care.

For more insight on this topic check out pharmaceutical blogger, Derek Lowe who has been covering this issue over the past year with a particular focus on Paxil and placebos. I recommend his column if you haven't read it recently.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

September 7, 2004

Neuroinformatics - An Enormous Market

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Posted by Zack Lynch

While bioinformatics isn't likely to create any new software stars, neuroinformatics will. The reason is simple: complexity. As I mentioned recently, the data about a person's genome can already fit on an ipod, yet the data about one's brain will require petabytes, if not exabytes, of storage capacity.

How much is a petabyte? One example is the Internet Archive Wayback Machine that contains approximately 1 petabyte of data and it has been archiving almost every webpage created since 1993.

Along with government initiatives like the human brain project there are also several small companies targeting neuroinformatics like Australia's Brain Resource Company (BRC), San Diego's Neurome, and Chicago's MIICRO.

Here is an overview of what BRC is up to (courtesy of Psychscape)

BRC has has set up the world's first standardized international database on the human brain. BRC already has a database of over 1,000 normative subjects and over 500 clinical subjects and still growing. This collaboration of scientists and technology partners (such as IBM) gathers information into a neuroscience database which includes demographic, neuropsychological (cognitive), electrical brain-body function, sMRI, fMRI, genetic and lifestyle data along with function, structure and genetics of patients' brains. A patient who is referred to the database (by over 50 researchers from around the globe), first enters data online - this consists of demographic data such as age, gender, eating and drinking habits, early childhood experiences. The patient tben goes into one of the BRC labs to undergo various tests, such as MRIs and EEGs

According to the BRC website, researchers then use a tool called the "Matrix" that allows comparisons between various elements in the database. "It consists of 245 x 245 correlations, with 8 layers of age, (each with 3 parameters) totalling over 1.4 Million cells of data. This enormous amount of information is powerfully summarised by automated colouring of cells based on significance levels. At a glance widespread patterns in the data can be seen as patches of colour. To further investigate such hotspots the matrix can be crossed referenced on all three dimensions (correlates of the column variable, correlates of the row variable, and through age groups/covariation) to explore possible confounds, interaction and causality."

One of the goals of the BRC is to allow rapid comparisons of a patient profile against the normative data with the goal of predicting a response to particular drugs or anticipate a side effect to a specific intervention. Science has been chasing the ability to predict a personal response to any clinical intervention. Who will respond and who will not respond is extremely valuable information to the pharmaceutical industry as well as to clinicians.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry

September 1, 2004

The Nanotech Report 2004 - A must read

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Lux Research just published the third edition of their seminal report on the nanotechnology industry. The Nanotech Report 2004 profiles more than 1,000 companies and features new investment frameworks and strategies, company and academic profiles, patent licensing opportunities and trends, competitive data, interviews with Nobel laureates and industry experts, profiles of the most influential players in nanotechnology, and a technical primer.

Because nanotechnology is a key enabler of neurotechnology, I recommend that anyone involved in neurotech-oriented ventures read the insights contained within this report - click here for a free download of the introduction.

Key findings in the report include:

- Governments, corporations and venture capitalists will spend more than $8.6 billion worldwide on nanotechnology research and development in 2004.
- National & local governments will invest more than $4.6 billion in nanotech R&D in 2004.
- The U.S. government will spend nearly twice as much on nanotechnology this year as it did on the Human Genome Project in its peak year.
- The U.S. has now appropriated more than $3.16 billion to fund nanotechnology R&D since 2000 and is proposing $982 million in new funding for FY 2005.
- Major corporations will spend more than $3.8 billion on nanotech R&D in 2004.

A webinar is also available that provides the highlights of the report. It can be found by clicking here. For more nanotech news check out this resource.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry