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.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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June 29, 2006

Medicalizing Road Rage

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Have you ever jumped out of your car and smashed someone else's windshield because they didn't use their blinker? Or has anyone done it to you? If so, someone might be suffering from intermittent explosive disorder.

"A little-known mental disorder marked by episodes of unwarranted anger is more common than previously thought, a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health has found. Depending upon how broadly it's defined, intermittent explosive disorder (IED) affects as many as 7 percent of adults — 11-16 million Americans — in their lifetimes.

People with IED may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. To be diagnosed with IED, an individual must have had three episodes of impulsive aggressiveness "grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor," at any time in their life, according to the standard psychiatric diagnostic manual. The person must have "all of a sudden lost control and broke or smashed something worth more than a few dollars…hit or tried to hurt someone…or threatened to hit or hurt someone."

People who had three such episodes within the space of one year — a more narrowly defined subgroup — were found to have a much more persistent and severe disorder, particularly if they attacked both people and property. The latter group caused 3.5 times more property damage than other violent IED sub-groups. Affecting nearly 4 percent of adults within any given year — 6-8 million Americans — the disorder leads to a mean of 43 attacks over the course of a lifetime and is associated with substantial functional impairment."

I can't imagine the commercials we are likely to see when anger calming drugs hit the market.

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 27, 2006

Wyeth's CEO Rober Essner Calls For Stepped Up Alzheimer's Effort

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, Wyeth CEO Robert Essner called for a new partnership to accelerate Alzheimer's research, stating that "it is imperative for industry, scientists and regulators to work together to help us reach our goal even faster. We need a sense of urgency, a commitment to collaboration that will lead to a concerted, focused effort to prevent this impending epidemic."

America is getting serious about preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of avian flu. Would that it could muster the same sense of urgency for a disease that is already here and is certain to become epidemic. The disease is Alzheimer's. It will claim one in 10 baby boomers, create a personal and fiscal nightmare for their families, and drain -- if not bankrupt -- state and federal health-care budgets. Medicare now pays one-third of all its health-care funds for some 4.5 million Alzheimer's patients. Are we ready for three times that number?

elanWyeth_combined_spons-02.gifAlzheimer's doesn't have to be an inevitable part of aging. It is a disease for which research can find a cure, or at least a more effective treatment. In that way, it could be like HIV-AIDS -- a disease that, for most sufferers, went from a lethal diagnosis to a treatable chronic condition within six years of its discovery. One breakthrough AIDS drug rapidly led to another, because we mobilized pandemic-strength muscle against it. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration created review and approval processes that helped new therapies for AIDS reach people who needed them years ahead of what would have otherwise been possible.

I couldn't agree more, and in the coming months you will be hearing much more about how a new industry organization that I am in the process of building will play an important role in accelerating treatments for all neurological diseases and psychiatric illness.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals

June 20, 2006

Two Companies To Begin Offering "Lie Detection" Using fMRI

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Posted by Zack Lynch

_40590429_brain203.jpgRecent developments in the application of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to lie detection raise tremendous concerns for civil liberties. The federal government has invested heavily in a range of technologies and devices, including fMRI, for their use in detecting deception. At least two companies have recently announced that they will soon offer lie detection services using fMRI and are aggressively marketing their services to private companies and government agencies for everything from personnel screening to interrogating terror suspects. These companies are Cephos Corporation and the obviously named "NoLieMRI. These companies are intending to market their services to federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense, department of Justice, the National Security Agency, and the CIA, and to state and local police departments. It will be interesting to see how the courts view these news analysis tools. My opinion is that this technology is not ready for prime time, but one thing is for sure, it looks like the neurosociety is emerging quickly.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

June 19, 2006

Stockholm / Uppsala Neurotechnology Cluster Analyzed

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Last week I received a superb 40-page report analyzing the factors that have been important in establishing the the Stockholm/Uppsala regions' position in the global neurotechnology industry. Written by Swedish neuroscience graduate students Jesper Ericsson, Mikael Nygård and Minrui Zheng, the report was a response to NeuroInsights' Neurotech Nexus Report that analyzed the leading regional neurotech clusters worldwide and which ranked this particular region a competitive 10th place. Here is a snippet from the report Stockholm/Uppsala - Strengthening and Enhancing Its Position as an Emerging Neurotechnology Cluster:

"Swedish neuroscience is characterized by excellence in research, and this is the very foundation of the neurotechnology industry. The Stockholm/Uppsala cluster is the strongest region in Sweden and several outstanding research groups have been identified in basic, clinical and applied neuroscience at especially three main universities: Karolinska Institutet, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Uppsala University. There was a general agreement throughout the interviews that the ranking by NeuroInsights in 2005 that listed Stockholm/Uppsala as the 10th strongest neurotechnology cluster in the world was a good and fair judgment, and some even advocated that the cluster was stronger and should be ranked higher.

swedish_brain_w100.jpgIn addition to academic research, the ranking was also based on the regions access to venture capital as well as the number neurotechnology companies. The venture capital business in Sweden appears to be strong, especially in comparison to other EU countries, and there are several life science specialized firms within the region with HealthCap as the largest actor. There is also an increased activity by foreign venture capital firms that wants to access the Swedish life science sector and invest at early stage in start-ups (Interviews with Ylva Williams and Kai Hammerich, ISA)...

There is however also several worrying signs within the region that are mainly concerned with the inadequate measures taken by the government to increase the growth rate of the neurotechnology sector and the region in general. Within academia, there is a growing and alarming concern about the halting funding of research together with growing costs in terms of rent and administration.

The recognition of neuroscience in general as the potentially strongest area within the lifescience sector in Sweden by the Invest in Sweden Agency and others in 2001, was an important recognition of the excellence of Swedish neuroscience and later led to the establishment of Swedish Brain Power. The placement of the OECD neuroinformatics international coordinating facility in Stockholm is another important international recognition of the region. If these and other efforts such as the “Norra Station” project by Stockholm BioScience are successful they will surely contribute to the excellence of this neurotechnology cluster, which will hopefully maintain and also enhance its international competitiveness.

Our report shows that with adequate and focused measures, the Stockholm/Uppsala neurotechnology cluster has the ability not only to sustain its strong position, but to grow considerably in volume, strength and excellence."

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry

June 14, 2006

Recent NeuroInsights and Neurotech Press

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Posted by Zack Lynch

With the recent NeuroInsights conference and other talks I have given there have been several articles that have appeared in magazines, journals and newspapers. Here are links to some of them:

Science Business: Neurotechnology - The Next Frontier
With global revenues of $110 billion last year, and an aging population, the nascent "neurotechnology" market appears poised for huge growth. June 1, 2006. (registration req'd)

M&C News: Human Enhancement: Problem or Solution?
Since the advent of simple tools, humans have been expanding their capacities. Cognitive enhancement dates back to the written word, a primitive process for downloading information from our minds to the hard drive of parchment. June 2, 2006.

Nature Biotechnology: Monoclonals Expand into Neural Disorders

In April, Pfizer bought a Genentech spinoff, Rinat Neuroscience, for "close to $500 million dollars," according to one source. What drew Pfizer's interest to Rinat was its pipeline, in particular, two of its most advanced drugs. June 2, 2006. (subscription req'd)

Cox News Service: Ethical concerns line biomedicine's path
Much of the discussion centered around the rapidly growing field of "neurotechnology" and its ability to enhance cognition, or make people smarter.

Expresso (In Portuguese) - Chegou a indústria do cérebro Reposted here and here without subscription. A investigação em neurociências passou do laboratório para o mercado. Zack Lynch vê nos 1500 milhões de doentesnas áreas das neurociências um «efeito multiplicador» no mercadoda saúde. O QUE há uns anos era investigação futurista sobre os mistérios do nosso cérebro passou para o mercado e é mais uma janela de oportunidade para a biotecnologia.

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

June 12, 2006

Hear This! New Hearing Loss Drug Enters Clinical Testing from Sound Pharmaceuticals

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Posted by Zack Lynch

After receiving additional funding from DARPA this past winter Sound Pharmaceuticals has initiated clinical testing of SPI-1005 for the prevention and treatment of noise induced hearing loss.

According to OSHA and the CDC, 30-40 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a daily basis. Combined with a burgeoning population of war veterans and the dangerous listening habits of the MP3 generation, the societal costs for hearing devices and compensation awards have soared into the billions. There are currently no drugs for the prevention and treatment of hearing loss despite the vast and increasing need. Sound Pharmaceuticals is vigorously addressing this need with its first in class, first in indication drug, SPI-1005.

soundlogo.gifIn multiple preclinical studies, low oral doses of SPI-1005 have been shown to be effective in preventing and treating noise induced hearing loss. Sound Pharmaceuticals has now started a 32 patient Phase 1 study of SPI-1005 in normal healthy volunteers. “This dose escalation safety study will lay the ground work for our Phase 2 safety and efficacy trials with the US Army and Navy later this year,” stated VP and Director of Clinical Operations, Brett MacPherson.

Sound Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is a privately held neuropharmaceutical company with a focus on developing the first drugs for hearing loss and brain injury. For more information please contact Jonathan Kil, MD, President and CEO 206-634-2559.

Full disclosure: Eric Lynch, VP and Director of Research at Sound is also my brother.

Update 6/22: Excellent Technology Review article on Sound.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

June 9, 2006

June 8, 2006

The Human Speechome Project - 3 Continuous Years of Baby Videos

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This is what I call dedication:

Many people preserve their babies' priceless first smiles, words or steps on video, but Associate Professor Deb Roy, head of the MIT Media Lab's Cognitive Machines research group, is taking parental attentiveness to a whole new level. Roy is recording nearly all of his new son's waking hours in an ambitious attempt to use these data to unravel the mystery of how humans naturally acquire language within the context of their primary social setting. He will pay particular attention to the role of physical and social context in how his son, nine months old, learns early words and early grammatical constructions. Roy's vast recording and analysis effort, known as "The Human Speechome Project" (speech + home), will yield some 400,000 hours of audio and video data over three years. Roy will present a paper on the Speechome Project at the 28th Annual Cognitive Science Conference in July.

I bet he'll come away with hours, if not days of funny childhood mishaps that would be perfect for America's Funniest Videos or better yet, YouTube!

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurosociety

June 6, 2006

Smart Prosthetics Initiative - Researcher Deadline Tomorrow

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Applications for researchers to attend the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative "Smart Prosthetics: Exploring Assistive Devices for the Body and Mind" a conference to be held Nov. 9-11, 2006, in Irvine, CA is tomorrow. The Futures Initiative will pay all travel expenses, including lodging and meals, for invited researchers. Each year the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative hosts a conference to bring together more than 100 of the nation's best and brightest researchers from academia, industry, and government laboratories to ask questions about -- and to discover interdisciplinary connections between -- important areas of cutting-edge research. This year's conference will focus on new possibilities in the field of prosthetics.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Brain Foundations

June 5, 2006

Games That Feel You

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This post came in from a Brain Waves reader, Alexandre Carter. Seemed good enough to share.

While listening to Weekend America yesterday on NPR I came across the following story I thought you might find interesting. They report that the “next big thing” in video gaming is the development of “emotionally adaptive software” or games that can tell what the player is feeling and respond accordingly. The technology to make this possible requires being able to input changes in emotional/brain state to the program via a small headset/simplified electroencephalograph (probably with additional information on your vitals, galvanic skin response and pupillary reaction). While I think that getting a simple EEG (as opposed to the 19 electrode standard used in medicine) to provide enough specific information to accurately reflect anything but changes in level of arousal may be a monumental obstacle (EmSense thinks they have a solution) this would allow for games that involve a lot more than point and shoot. For instance what if “…the mother in the Sims could sense that [you were] upset that she yelled at her daughter?…” What if you could design a video game that was as much about the drama as about the action? The show’s guest implies that this technology could even promote the maturation of emotional intelligence by holding up to us a kind of mirror.

_1652529_ego300.jpgOf course, this harkens back to all of the as yet unfulfilled promises of computers to improve relaxation, focus and most importantly education. What if this technology could be used to tell if a student is understanding and retaining what they are reading, and change the lesson if they are not? This would be an important step toward developing the computer as a personalized tutor. It would surely also be of interest to the entertainment (neurotainment?) and advertising (neurotizing?) industries to create more appealing if not addictive products and shopping suggestions. There is something to be said however for being exposed to things we don’t like but I guess you could dial in that preference too. While I think the potential is enormous, I fear that this Neurosociety is still far off as neuroceuticals/prosthetics/stim devices remain in the hands of the neuro-elite. Furthermore, I would not look to the established fields of medicine, academic research, or education for the Prometheus who will bestow that fire upon the people. They are too entrenched and lack vision. So, who knows, maybe we will need to rely on the playful spirit of the gamers and the less pure spirit of the advertisers to finally kick in the door that leads to this brave new world.

I believe Alexandre is on to something.

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

Human Enhancement - A View From Washington

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Posted by Zack Lynch

main_logo.gifHere is an interview I gave with United Press International last week after my talk at the AAAS Human Enhancement meeting in Washington D.C. Mark Frankel, the meeting organizer, did an excellent job of bringing together many knowledgeable speakers from across the ideological spectrum.

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- Since the advent of simple tools, humans have been expanding their capacities. Cognitive enhancement dates back to the written word, a primitive process for downloading information from our minds to the hard drive of parchment.

The technological and medicinal enhancement of human ability should then be part of a continuum of progress. This is evolution -- or is it?

'Humans have always been toolmakers, and this is just the next set of tools that humanity has developed to help us live longer, happier, more fulfilling lives, and like any set of tools, they can be used for constructive or destructive purposes,' Zack Lynch, managing director at NeuroInsights, an economic and social forecaster and adviser on neurotechnology, told United Press International.

He spoke Thursday at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, where experts met to discuss the issue of human enhancement.

Technology such as employee brain scans to test for honesty, art exhibits that tinker with viewers` senses, memory erasure to expunge the memory of torture and neurowarfare could exist within 10 to 15 years, Lynch said.

Certain human enhancements have already filtered into society and are generally accepted. Botox, Prozac, laser eye surgery and even caffeine stimulation from Starbucks change how our bodies and minds function. Students use Ritalin as a study aide.

And steroid use and blood boosting, though illegal practices, are major issues in the world of sports. In fact, many worry that enhancement will take the place of effort.

'While no one may deserve their success if they achieve it without effort, no one deserved their natural talents either,' said Max Mehlman, professor of law and bioethics and director of the law-medicine center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland.

However, the President`s Council on Bioethics issued a report in 2003 that stated, 'Many people believe that each person should work hard for his achievements.' People admire those who overcome obstacles even if they prefer the grace of natural talent, the council authors wrote.

The debate on the effects of enhancement on character extends into the religious arena as well. (more here)

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050