BrainQ aims to change that with a device that stimulates the damaged part of the brain and promotes self-repair, showing enough improvement in studies to warrant a Breakthrough Device certification from the FDA and the company has just raised $40M to take it to market.
It should be said at the outset that doubting the efficacy of some brainwave-emitting miracle device is natural. And in fact when I spoke with BrainQ’s founder Yotam Drechsler, he reminded me of the last time we’d talked back in 2017, at which time I “expressed strong skepticism.”Strokes can result in various obvious impairments, such as grip strength or coordination, but of course the injury is not to the hand or leg itself, it is to the networks in the brain that govern those parts. But medical science has no method for directly rebuilding those networks the brain must do so on its own, in its own time.
BrainQ’s device does something similar, making the brain operate better by changing its local environment.“We map the channels of healthy brains and non-healthy brains and compare them. Once we find these, we use a low-intensity magnetic field therapy to resonate in the brain and facilitate its endogenous recovery mechanisms,” explained Drechsler.
It’s been shown in other contexts that this type of stimulation can produce improved neuroplasticity the capability of the central nervous system to reprogram itself. By narrowly targeting stroke-affected areas, BrainQ’s device promotes neuroplasticity in them, leading to expedited recovery.But it’s not simply a matter of saying “the stroke affected the ventral half of the right occipital lobe, aim the magnets there.” The brain is a complicated system, and strokes affect networks, not just a given cubic centimeter. BrainQ has deployed machine learning and a large collection of data to better understand how to target those networks.
Without diving too deeply into how the brain operates, let it suffice to say that certain networks operate locally at very specific spectral signatures or frequencies as detected by EEG readings. The left hand and left foot may occupy the same region of the motor cortex, but the hand might operate at 22 Hz, while the foot operates at 24 Hz, for example.
“The question is, how do you find these signatures?” asked Drechsler. As it’s somewhat difficult to explain, I asked him to put it in his own words after we spoke:
The novelty of BrainQ’s investigational treatment lies in the data-driven method we have deployed in order to inform the ELF-EMF frequency parameters. In choosing these parameters, our aim is to select frequencies that characterize motor-related neural networks in the CNS, and are related to the disability a person experiences following a stroke or other neurological trauma. To achieve this, we have analyzed a large-scale amount of healthy and non-healthy individuals’ brainwaves (electrophysiology data). Our technology uses explanatory machine learning algorithms to observe the natural spectral characteristics and derive unique therapeutic insights. These are used by BrainQ’s technology to target the recovery of impaired networks.
The device they’ve created to administer the treatment is unusual. Because it’s a whole-brain magnetic field generator, it has a rather bulky cylindrical headpiece , but the rest of it fits into a sort of back brace and hip pack. That’s because, unlike the more common magnetic brain imaging tech, MRI, the fields and currents involved are extremely small.