Technology Review: Why neurotechnology?
Zack Lynch: Neuroscience is now moving from a science to an industry. What we're really looking at is an evolution: researchers are now going beyond basic science and developing more effective therapeutics for brain-related illnesses.
The need is huge. One in four people worldwide suffer from a brain-related illness, which costs a trillion dollars a year in indirect and direct economic costs. We all know someone who is affected. That burden will continue to grow with the aging population. We have more people, and more people living longer -- it's a multiplier effect.
TR: We're also starting to see a new kind of therapy for brain-related illnesses -- electrical stimulation. Various types of stimulation devices are now on the market to treat epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson's disease. What are some of the near- and far-term technologies we'll see with this kind of device?
ZL: We're seeing explosive growth in this area because scientists are overcoming many of the hurdles in this area. One example is longer battery life, so devices don't have to be surgically implanted every five years. Researchers are also developing much smaller devices. Advanced Bionics, for example, has a next-generation stimulator in trials for migraines.
In the neurodevice space, the obesity market is coming on strong. Several companies are working on this, including Medtronics and Leptos Biomedical. In obesity, even a small benefit is a breakthrough, because gastric bypass surgery [one of the most common treatments for morbid obesity] is so invasive.
In the next 10 years, I think we'll start to see a combination of technologies, like maybe a brain stimulator that releases L-dopa [a treatment for Parkinson's disease]. Whether that's viable is a whole other question, but that possibility is there because of the microelectronics revolution.
The real breakthrough will come from work on new electrodes. This will transform neurostimulator applications. With these technologies, you can create noninvasive devices and target very specific parts of the brain. It's like going from a Model T to a Ferrari. Those technologies will present the real competition for drugs.