Sunday, 14 July 2013

Brain Projects springing up across the world: The B.R.A.I.N. Initiative, The Human Brain Project (HBP) and Israel Brain Technologies

R&D budgets across the world have surprisingly struggled to take serious note of neuro-science’s explosive growth, and neurotech briefly remained under-funded, awaiting a policy push. Until recently, that is. Today, at least five international neuroscience initiatives are already going full-steam ahead towards a brighter neurotech future, all of which are less than three years old. The initiatives are in addition to ambitious brain projects and specialized neuroscience foundations and non-profit organizations around the world, some of which were established precisely to relieve R&D budget bottlenecks.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres was one of the first global leaders to see the immense potential of neurotechnology and to lay foundations for Israel’s now burgeoning Israel Brain Technologies initiative, officially founded in 2011. Many figures and organizations quickly followed suit, in what has now become a global gold rush to fill the emerging power vacuum on the throne of world brain leaders. Table 1 summarizes active neuroscience initiatives and active brain foundations around the world.

Initiative/ Foundation

Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Technologies (B.R.A.I.N)
$100 million for first year; commitment for 10 years—subsequent budget to be drawn at later stages
Create an elaborate brain map and invest in novel brain mapping technologies
Fattah Brain Initiative (Now part of B.R.A.I.N)
Significantly increase federal funding of neuroscience, which the initiative accomplished  with the B.R.A.I.N. project
Human Brain Project
€1.19 billion over 10 years
Develop world’s most elaborate ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Infrastructure in order to provide powerful research tools for neuroscience and to establish and accelerate a global collaboration in brain research
Israel Brain Technologies (IBT)
N/A; $1 million prize for international innovative neurotechnology
Make Israel a leading neurotech hub of the world; fund most innovative global neuro-technologies
National Neurotechnology Initiative Act (NNTI)
$200 million
Open up innovation bottlenecks by coordinating across federal agencies on all neuro-developments, and establishing multi-agency cooperation in neuroscience
Brain Canada Multi-Investigator Research Initiative (MIRI)
CA$ 1.5 million per project, over three years
Support up to five multidisciplinary teams in the sphere of neuroscience research over three years

Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative
Approx. $300,000
Build infrastructure for neuroscience research in Palestine, Augment research training for a new generation of Palestinian medical students and doctors, in cooperation with elite institutions worldwide
NOK 80 million (US $13.7 million)
Set up state-of-the-art neuroscience equipment across a broad spectrum of molecular and systems neuroscience in Norway

The Dana Foundation*
Approx. $10 million revenue (2011)
Advance brain research and educate the public in a responsible manner about research’s potential
The Brain Canada Foundation (Brain Canada)
CA$100 million
Support Canadian neuroscience, accelerate discoveries to improve the health and quality of life for Canadians who suffer from brain disorders
The Israel Society For Neuroscience#
Collect, share and disseminate information about Israel’s neuro-developments
Brain Foundation Australia#
Fund world-class research Australia-wide into neurological disorders, brain disease and brain injuries
Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF)#



Advance neurological and mental health patient welfare, education, and research; promote free and open-access distribution of brain related information
* Private philanthropic organization
† National charitable organization
# Non-profit charity organization


On April 2, 2013 President Barack Obama unveiled the BRAIN (which coincidentally spells Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, whose final and uttermost objective is to visualize, map, understand and reconstruct the activity of every single neuron in the brain. This knowledge will in the future be applied to the development of new technologies and the treatment of quickly expanding array of neurological disorders.

The initiative was launched with US$ 100 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, which pales in comparison with the $5.5 billion the NIH spends on neuroscience annually, but significantly outshines the measly $28 million spent on the human genome project in its first year of operation. BRAIN’s near-sighted primary goal will be to sponsor ongoing brain mapping projects, such as the Human Connectome Project, and technologies which will facilitate the projects’ progress. In his BRAIN inauguration speech, the President called on academic institutions, industry, foundations, researchers and philanthropists to help in identifying realistic goals and objectives for the initiative.

In addition to the governmental budget, philanthropic and non-profit organizations have made additional support pledges to the initiative. Foundations which have already announced dedicated commitment to the plan and related projects are: The Allen Institute ($60 million), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute ($30 million annually), the Kavli Foundation ($4 million annually) and Salk Institute for Biological Studies ($28 million).

Considering the fact that a single Human Connectome Project brain scan consumes 22MW of electricity – enough to power a nuclear submarine, BRAIN is likely to be costlier than previous initiatives, and will need to carry a substantial focus on making technological leaps in altogether new directions, which are certainly needed in order to progress with the world’s exuberant plans.
Amongst the plans the BRAIN Initiative advocates are:
  • Solid academic expertise: NIH is due to form an academic leadership group comprising leading scientists to lay out clear scientific objectives, milestones, cost estimates and timetables for the initiative.
  • Strong academia-industry collaboration: federal agencies are strongly encouraged to partner with companies and foundations with complementary interests, paving the way for a smooth transition from neuro-science to neuro-tech. In the past, such collaborations have strongly benefitted government plans, and feature prominently in the BRAIN initiative. All the US-based foundations and initiatives described in table 2 are expected to work closely with the BRAIN initiative.
  • High ethical standards: because neuroscientific, or generally breakthrough, practices are likely to touch on ethically-sensitive bases at some point, the BRAIN initiative is preliminarily addressing potential issues via the President’s order to the Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues for efforts to be partially diverted towards foreseeable or arising challenges in light of society, the law and ethics.


Since the Human Brain Project’s (HBP) inception in 2013 in its birthplace Lausanne, proponents have likened it to the CERN for the brain, whilst opponents have called it a flamboyant, and a much too feathery, peacock of the sciences. The ambitions of the project are so grand that the necessary supercomputer, befittingly titled “The Brain”, whose job would be to simulate the inner workings of CNS headquarters, would take at least 12 years to build, and each neuron it would simulate would guzzle the power of one laptop. The Brain would devour every neuroscientific finding, brain scan, neuroanatomical image and other imaginable parameters around the world, and process all that information to potentially recreate the millions of neurons and synapses of the mind, and simulate their behavior.

The Human Brain Project competed with other, no less ambitious projects, for the modest sum of €1.19 billion over the next ten years. One worthy challenger project, which also managed to secure substantial EU funds, was 21st century’s miracle material graphene. In general, the main goal of HBP is to slowly but steadily simulate every human brain neuron on the computer, and HBP’s founder and, incidentally, Israel’s Weizmann Institute graduate Henry Markram plans to accomplish this by the 2040s. Work towards this objective is already underway: HBP’s prototype, titled the Blue Brain Project, was launched by Markram in 2005 and by 2008 the first artificial neocortical column of 10,000 rat brain cells was complete.  By 2011 the number of simulated rat neocortical columns stood at 100, and the rat brain project is due to be completed in 2014. By the way, the $20 million supercomputer on which the Blue Brain Project runs costs $1 million a year to cool with Lake Geneva’s water. So much for simulating an organ which runs on the energy of a bedside lamp.

The human brain is orders of magnitude more complex than the rat brain, but perhaps the most restricting factor in human brain simulation is the fact that humans do not grow in labs, and neuroscientists are faced with the immense quest of creating a unique approach to collecting human brain data without having to genetically modify or dissect homo sapiens. This is why HBP will be an omnipotent cohort of 150 (soon to be 1,500) top researchers from 70 institutions in 22 countries, whose reach will branch far and wide into the depths of the scientific and healthcare communities.

The chaotic complexity of HBP is undeniable, but the team has broken the monster mission into manageable and very relevant parts. There is the Neuroinformatics Platform, which aims to create a practical interface for scientists around the world to share and homogenize their data, and the Brain Simulation Platform which will make use and most importantly sense of the collected information, and perform in silico research. Then there are the High Performance Computing Platform, the Medical Informatics Platform, the Neuromorphic Computing Platform and a Neurorobotics Platform. The platforms are all based on previous pioneering work by the partners and, within 30 months, will be open for use by the world’s neuroscience community, growing in magnitude from continuous input generated from research.

And then there is the ethical and public awareness committee, whose important role is to present latest findings to the public so as to minimize the project’s ability to cause unwarranted panic and misunderstanding, to the possibility of which genetically modified produce could testify.


Israel is often referred to as the “Start-up Nation”, but Israel’s president Shimon Peres is seemingly fascinated by a much further frontier than that. From “Start-up Nation” to “Brain Nation” is how the recent non-profit Israel Brain Technologies (IBT) initiative is commonly described. The main goal of the initiative will be to steer Israel’s immense R&D efforts in a more neuro-inspired direction, carrying the ultimate goal of making Israel a leading neurotech hub of the world.

The initiative was conceived under President Peres’s firm belief in the future of neurotechnology, but was put in motion by one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Israel’s history—Dr Rafi Gidron, who was the official founder of IBT and now serves as its chairman. Gidron founded an optical component company Chromatis in 1998, and sold the company to Lucent just 27 months later for $4.7 billion, in what has since become Israel’s largest exit.

Gidron strongly supports the President’s vision to turn Israel into the go-to neuro nation. After all, Peres was able to raise $250 million for nanotechnology research, and there isn’t a doubt that he could do the same for neurotech. IBT is now entering its third year of operation, and already over $10 million was raised for areas which form the focus of the initiative: human-machine interface and neurological therapies.

Currently IBT is generating hype through its $1 million prize offered for yet another brain acronym--the B.R.A.I.N. (Breakthrough Research And Innovation in Neurotechnology) competition, which will see most promising scientists around the globe lock horns over who will be the creator of the most innovative technology around the world in the following spheres:
  • Technology for diagnostics and treatment of brain disease
  • Technology which can improve scientific understanding of the brain
  • Groundbreaking brain-machine interface technology
  • Innovative brain stimulation technology
  • Disruptive neuro-technologies in computation, robotics and communications

Currently a team of leading researchers and neuro-experts around the globe, which include three Nobel laureates Profs Eric Kandel, Daniel Kahneman and Bert Sakmann, are selecting amogst a number of finalists of the Brain Prize, which were announced in May of 2013. The winner will be revealed at IBT’s Global Brain Technology conference in October 2013.

More info at

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Grim Near-Term Prospects For Zogenix: Bioassociate for SeekingAlpha

Bioassociate's latest Seeking Alpha article is on Zogenix Inc. Below is a re-run of the article, and the original can be found here

Zogenix (ZGNX) is still awaiting a response from the FDA for the approval of Zohydro ER, after the agency has delayed the scheduled approval decision date of March 1st. Zohydro ER is Zogenix's lead product - hydrocodone bitartrate (opioid painkiller) extended-release capsules for the management of moderate-to-severe chronic pain. Zohydro ER brings two novelties to the current hydrocodone market: (1) twice-daily administration, compared to 4 times a day of current, immediate-release, hydrocodone containing pills; (2) Most importantly, Zohydro ER is a single-entity hydrocodone pill that does not contain acetaminophen. According to Zogenix, the absence of acetaminophen enables patients to avoid the risk of liver injury associated with the use of acetaminophen in high dosages or over long periods of time.
There is no doubt that a need exists for a drug like Zohydro ER in the immense chronic pain market. However, the fact of the matter is that it is quite certain the FDA will not approve Zohydro ER. To make things even worse for Zogenix, even the unlikely event of FDA approval of Zohydro ER will not bring Zogenix's stock price out of the mud, due to the company's feeble financial status and the competitive landscape for Zohydro ER.
Why the FDA will not approve Zohydro ER:
1. The FDA advisory committee voted against recommending the approval of Zohydro ER: Zohydro ER was the first pure hydrocodone (acetaminophen-free) drug candidate to face an FDA advisory committee. In December 2012, the FDA's Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Advisory Committee of independent experts voted 11 to 2 (with one abstention) against recommending the approval of Zohydro ER. The panel was sharply divided on safety and efficacy, but almost unanimous about the concern over the drug's potential for addiction.
Historical data show a very clear image: when an FDA advisory panel recommends against approval, the FDA rarely reverses the decision. In fact, such reversal happened only on 3 occasions in recent years. This means that according to past statistics there's a very slim chance the FDA will approve Zohydro ER.
2. Zohydro ER is likely to produce the next wave of substance dependence and abuse: opioid drugs, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet), are highly addictive substances that produce abuse-related effects. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] reports that around 15,000 Americans die each year from prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, with teens comprising a fifth of the victims.
If approved by the FDA and marketed, Zohydro ER could cause dependence and be abused, possibly at a greater rate than that of currently available hydrocodone-acetaminophen combination products, mainly because it contains a much larger dose of hydrocodone (up to 50 mg of pure hydrocodone compared to up to 10 mg in Vicodin).
3. Zohydro ER is not an abuse deterrent product: misuse and abuse of opioid drugs involve physical or chemical manipulations to increase the concentration or bioavailability of the active ingredient, usually for administration via snorting and injections. In recent years, abuse deterrent technologies have been developed and implemented in opioid drugs.
A recent example is the FDA's approval of Purdue Pharma's reformulated abuse-deterrent OxyContin in April 2013. Importantly, along with the approval of the abuse-deterrent Oxycontin, the FDA has determined that the benefits of original OxyContin no longer outweigh its risks and that original OxyContin was withdrawn from sale. Accordingly, the agencyannounced it will not approve any generic versions of original OxyContin.
The absence of abuse-deterrent technology in Zohydro ER further supports the likelihood of this drug's abuse once it reaches the market.
4. The FDA is currently campaigning against abuse and misuse of prescription opioid drugs: The prescription opioid drug abuse epidemic and its consequences are well known to the FDA. Apart from the agency's barring of non-abuse-deterrent OxyContin formulations (see #3 above) from entering the market, the FDA is amidst an overall move towards abuse-resistant narcotics that includes:
  • On January 2013, the FDA issued draft guidance on abuse-deterrent opioids.
  • In the same month, the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee met to discuss the abuse potential of hydrocodone drugs (like Zohydro ER) and voted in favor of rescheduling hydrocodone from Schedule III (moderate-to-low potential for physical and psychological dependence) to Schedule II (high potential for abuse) of the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The FDA is under an ongoing political and public pressure against abuse of opioid drugs, coming from pain and drug addiction specialists, the Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, and families of opioid drugs victims. In addition, a "Stop Tampering of Prescription Pills" Act [STOPP] was introduced to the US Congress, suggesting forcing the FDA to bar new drug applications for orally administered opioids that do not use abuse deterrent formulations.
In its current formulation, Zohydro ER has no protections against abuse and can be easily converted into a large dose of hydrocodone. In the current atmosphere, both within and outside of the FDA, Zohydro ER is an un-approvable drug.
Zohydro ER approval should not affect Zogenix's stock:
1. Upcoming dilution: regardless of the FDA's verdict, Zogenix's financial status calls for an immediate financing round. As of the end of March 2013, the company had cash reserves of ~$25m and an average quarterly burn rate of $15m. This means that by the end of Q2 2013, Zogenix will have only $10m in the bank. A sign for Zogenix's financial stress was the layoff of nearly 40% of its work staff during June, in an effort to conserve cash until the expected announcement from the FDA.
2. Other products will not save the day: Zogenix's first commercial product, Sumavel DosePro - a needle-free sumatriptan injection for the acute treatment of migraine, was launched in early 2010. Sales figures of Sumavel DosePro have been disappointing so far, with stagnation in quarterly revenues (around $8m) in the last 4 quarters, which yield a gross profit of under $4m per quarter. It looks like Sumavel DosePro will not push Zogenix towards profitability.
3. Limited market opportunity for Zohydro ER: an FDA approval of Zohydro ER will come with tight restrictions that will restrain Zogenix from achieving profitability. More importantly, it is very likely that once abuse-deterrent formulations of single-entity hydrocodone pills will be approved (see in #4 below), Zohydro ER will be pulled from the market, as was the case with Oxycontin.
4. Superior competition is around the corner: three pharmaceutical companies are currently in final stages of developing their own versions of extended-release single-entity hydrocodone, with abuse deterrent technologies. Pharma giants Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma will be completing phase III studies with long-acting hydrocodone pills by the end of 2013, and are expected to launch their products by the end of 2014. The Danish company Egalet is also developing a tamper-resistant hydrocodone product that could reach the market by 2015. The launch of superior alternatives to Zohydro ER by industry leaders will leave Zogenix with a very short time to generate revenues from Zohydro ER before this market segment will be taken over.
The bottom line is that the chances for an FDA approval of Zohydro ER are very slim. Nevertheless, even with FDA approval for Zohydro ER, Zogenix might not reach profitability due to limited revenue generation. Combined with the company's current shaky financial status, Zogenix's stock is not expected to rise in the near future.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Neurotechnology: The Growing Brain Market and Latest Neurotech Breakthroughs

“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas... Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy... Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's... Now is not the time to cut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race”

                                                    -President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union address

“It’s all in the mind” seems to be one of humanity’s age-old mottos whose meaning has only grown more persuasive against the test of time. Ailments previously deemed peripheral based purely on their symptoms are being exposed for having deep roots in the brain as quickly as our knowledge of grey matter is expanding, so much so that many of over 600 known neurological disorders now top the leading disease list in the developed world (Table 1). In Europe, 38% of the population is said to be affected by brain disorders annually[i], whose burden in 2010 was estimated to be €798 billion, taking into account treatment costs as well as lost productivity. And the general consensus among physicians is—incidences of neuro-disorders, such as migraine, autism, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis is visibly on the rise. Over the coming years the European Brain Council has forecasted a further 20% increase in neurologic illness in the EU[ii].

To exacerbate the problem, ageing populations have never before borne so much impact on the global total. As cardiovascular, infectious and oncology treatments ameliorated, so has survivability and thus the incidence of diseases of the “old age”, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and progressive hearing loss. Alzheimer’s disease and stroke have been identified as the fastest-growing threats to US health, ahead of autoimmune disorders and diabetes[iii].

And perhaps the worst news is—Big Pharma has so far yielded sub-optimal treatments for neurological disorders, as success rates of neuropharmaceuticals in costly clinical trials have been excruciatingly poor in recent years. For instance, Alzheimer's disease (AD) researchers and patients had to face a long string of disappointments, as one promising AD therapy after another have failed to stop, or even slow down the disease. 2012 witnessed a fascinating race to the finish line between two anti-β amyloid monoclonal antibodies - Pfizer/Johnson&Johnson's Bapineuzumab ("Bapi") vs. Eli Lilly's Solanezumab ("Sola"). Both contenders tried to make history by altering the Alzheimer's disease treatment paradigm, but ended up failing in two of the biggest phase III studies of the year, having likely spent at least $400 million each on the drugs’ development. 



Prevalence/ Incidence
Economic Burden (incl. prod. loss) (US$)

Available treatment(s)
Chronic pain

50 million

635 billion
OTC pain relievers, anti-inflammatory steroids, therapy (physical & psychological), Medical Devices: Neurostimulators, Patient Controlled Analgesia
Depression (major)

46.4 million

16 billion
Medication: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), others; Medical devices: deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
Migraines/ cluster headaches
37 million
20 billion
OTC pain relievers, anti-inflammatory steroids, tripans, ergotamines, triptan+anti-emetic combination therapy, Botulinum toxin (Botox)
Hearing loss/deafness
37 million
14.75 billion
Hearing aids, cochlear implants
Bipolar disorder
5.7 million
42 billion
Mood stabilizers: Lithium, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics; Antidepressants,; Medical device: deepTMS (under investigation by Brainsway Israel)
Alzheimer’s disease
5.4 million
216 billion
Cholinesterase inhibitors: donepezine, rivastigmine, galantamine; Glutamate blocker: memantine
Autism spectrum disorders
3.5 million
35 billion
Virtually no medication – antidepressants occasionally used to treat symptoms; educational programs
3.4 million
32 billion
Typical antipsychotics, Atypical antipsychotics; Medical device: deepTMS (under investigation by Brainsway Israel)
3 million
17.6 billion
Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs): sodium valproate, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, topamax, vigabatrin; Medical device: VNS
Brain/head injury
1.7 million annually
48 billion
Neurosurgery, physical therapy
1.3 million

Retinal prosthesis, visual cortex neuroprosthesis (under development), stem cell therapy (under development)
795,000 annually
38.6 billion
Hemorrhagic: anticoagulants, surgery; Ischemic: clot busters, surgical clot removal (3-4-hour window); Sphenopalatine Ganglion (SPG) stimulation (24-hour window—under investigation by BrainsGate Israel)
Parkinson’s disease
23 billion
Levodopa; Dopamine agonists: pramipexole, ropinirole; Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors, Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors; Medical devices: Activa® implanted brain stimulator, deepTMS (under investigation by Brainsway Israel)
Multiple sclerosis
10 billion
Interferon-beta-1a and -1b, glatiramer acetate, mitoxantrone, natalizumab, fingolimod, teriflunomide, dimethyl fumarate; Stem Cell therapy: currently in clinical trials
Spinal cord injury
12,000 annually
14.5 billion
Neuroprosthetics, Stem Cell Therapy, antioxidant medication (methylprednisolone, lazaroids)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
5,600 annually
6 billion
Riluzole (only FDA-approved medication); Clinical trials: Arimoclomol, tirasemtiv, NurOwn™-adult stem cell therapy (under investigation by BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics Israel)

Perhaps the most significant contributing factor to the Golden Age of Neuroscience has been the rapid advancement of our understanding of this field at the basic level. Rapidly growing annual numbers of academic neuroscience publications bear testimony to the intensification of research in this sphere (fig. WE KNOW MORE

Perhaps the most significant contributing factor to the Golden Age of Neuroscience has been the rapid advancement of our understanding of this field at the basic level. Rapidly growing annual numbers of academic neuroscience publications bear testimony to the intensification of research in this sphere (fig. 1), but neuroscience success is even more evident in the highly-publicized neuro-breakthroughs of late, and in the number of academic and government initiatives which have been launched in recent years.

Vital signs seem to point towards the fact that the neuroscience revolution happening today bears striking resemblance to the biotechnology revolution circa 2000, which witnessed the tremendous efforts to sequence the human genome and resulted in colossal leaps in spheres such as genetic engineering and bacterial- and plant-derived production. 

The President of the USA is a heavy investor this time around, with US$ 100 million to spend in just one year on novel neuro-technologies and brain mapping—outshined only by the EU, whose commitment to a novel EU Brain Project was recently unveiled with a whopping €1.19 billion pledge. One needn’t be an expert in the field to sense that something big is happening. 


The SOCIETY FOR NEUROSCIENCE (SfN) was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1969, and is now the largest professional society for basic neuroscientists and physicians in the world. SfN has been a strong advocator of academic neuroscience and has played a pivotal role in funding and investment in the basic research of grey matter.

The society receives government grants, stages annual high-profile neuroscience meetings of over 30,000 attendees from 75 countries, and runs The Journal of Neuroscience - the world’s most cited neuroscience journal which publishes more research than the next five leading neuroscience journals combined. It is of no surprise that the health of SfN is often cited as a key indicator of the success of the scientific field itself. Over the past decade the society has gained nearly 20,000 members from across the world, and has grown its revenue, 23% of which originates from the scientific journal, by 10% in just eight years (fig. 2).

Basic neuroscience indicators tell a tale of a rapidly growing R&D environment which is continuously gaining new members and producing qualitative output. The Journal of Neuroscience has doubled the number of publications it contains since 2001—a growth rate which is unmatched by any other journal in the life science field, but what are the emanating breakthroughs which scientists are so eager to share with the world? Below are some examples of what neuroscience has accomplished in recent years.


Using electrodes to detect spikes in brain activity, scientists have been able to map areas of the brain responsible for a plethora of thoughts, actions and emotions. Back in 2007 scientists were able to predict with astonishing accuracy whether a subject would decide to add or subtract a number based on their brain activity in an fMRI scanner. However, already at the dawn of the new decade fMRI brain mapping achieved a much more incredible feat: reading and replicating vision. Subjects were asked to watch short clips inside an fMRI scanner, whose output scientists used to externally replicate clips of what the person was seeing. With this level of accuracy, it is only a matter of time before mind-reading becomes as easy as, well, reading.


Image source; shinji nishimoto

Neuroscientists demonstrated their mind-reading prowess by quite literally communicating with a comatose patient with the use of an fMRI scanner. A man believed to be in a vegetative state for 12 years was able to communicate to doctors that he was not in pain, kick-starting what has since become a revolution in our understanding of the comatose state.

The occurrence caused medical books to be rewritten, as it gave us the ability to communicate with thousands of patients previously “trapped in their own skulls”, like Israel’s ex-PM Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma following a stroke seven years ago.

In January of 2013 physicians at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Centre announced that fMRI scan results of Sharon’s brain demonstrated significant activity, as MRI spikes were documented in response to images and voices of family members shown and played to the patient.

To advance fMRI matters further, researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel have used the scanner to read motion signals from a student’s brain and wirelessly transmit them to a thought-controlled robot thousands of miles away—at a laboratory in France.  The development is part of an international initiative called “Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment” (VERE). The fMRI scannee could see a video relayed from a camera attached to the robot, and direct the robot as he wished by thinking motion, and thus creating certain discernible activity spikes for the robot to obey.


"For more than a century, medical science firmly believed that our brain
could not repair itself and that we were born with all the brain cells we would ever have."
-Society for Neuroscience, 2007

Just six years ago aspiring neuroscientists would have been taught that brains are born with a set amount of neurons, and, whilst new synapses (or neuronal intersections) are able to form throughout a lifetime, new nerve cells are no longer generated within the brain. But researchers have recently delivered more uplifting news: neurogenesis has been documented to occur in several brain areas: the hippocampus, responsible for memory formation, the olfactory bulb, responsible for the sense of smell, and the subventricular zone, which has been likened to the neuro-stem-cell “breeding ground” in the brain. About 10,000 new neurons daily are now said to be born in the olfactory and hippocampal areas.

Rapidly putting the newfound knowledge to use, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have accomplished a notable feat in stem cell research, having transformed human embryonic stem cells into neuro-regenarative cells in the brains of neuro-deficient mice. Following transplantation, the mice were able to regain their abilities to learn and remember.
Once we know that adult neurogenesis takes place, it is likely to be a matter of time before scientists elucidate the mechanisms which guide new neuron formation, and are able to apply these to other, non-neurogenerative areas of the brain—an accomplishment which would have tremendous implications.


Basic knowledge of the motor cortex has reached the level of excellent in recent years, with thought-powered robot limbs not only doing their owners’ precise bidding, but also offering their brains sensory input in return. In other words, whilst neuroprosthetic wearers had to rely solely on their vision when reaching for an item with, for instance, a thought-powered arm, scientists are now beginning to devise cunning ways of allowing the users to feel the object their prosthetic is interacting with. Sense-able neuroprosthetics could utterly revolutionize this field, and have wider-reaching implications in sectors such as gaming and technology.
Image credit: Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

Every wireless technology started with a wire, and neuroprosthetics are no exception. Normally bulky neuroprosthetic electrodes have to be implanted into the brain, but scientists at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the NIH in the US, have built a compact, self-contained sensor which can record and relay the activity of small groups of cells wirelessly (and invisibly). The sensor is the size of a baby aspirin and is made of silicon containing 100 hair-thin electrodes[i]. Not only is this technology much more compact and aesthetically pleasing than its predecessors, but it also offers unfathomable opportunities for thought-control of—pretty much anything—in stealth mode.


Image credit: Martin Cleaver/AP

In February of 2013 a monumental breakthrough testified to neurotechnology’s legitimacy when the first ever bionic eye received marketing approval from the FDA. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system, marketed by Second Sight Medical Products, provides electrical stimulation to the retina in patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa—a degenerative disease which is caused by dystrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium. The device is a retinal implant which relays external images to the brain by stimulating cells in the retina via implanted electrodes.

A step further in the technology may soon be taken by Israeli Nano Retina Inc: the company’s artificial retina technology Bio-retina incorporates nano-size components in a tiny, flat implant that is implanted by a small incision and “gluing” of the device to the damaged retina. The sensors transform naturally received light into an electrical signal that stimulates the neurons, which send the pictures received by Bio-Retina to the brain. The technology is due to embark on clinical trials by 2015.

Success of devices like Argus II and Bio-retina also provides immense hope for people who have been affected by blindness since a very young age. For some time now it has been known that blind people are able to “see” just with their brains, and a prosthetic device which detects the external environment and generates basic images in the brain, bypassing the retina, is only half a decade away. Currently, a team of scientists at the University of Texas are generating a detailed map of the visual cortex, and are hoping to begin working on a visual prosthetic device which would communicate directly with this brain area.


Researchers at Samsung’s Emerging Technology Lab, in collaboration with the University of Texas, are exploring users’ ability to launch applications with the power of their thoughts in a novel Galaxy Note 10.1 interface. The technology would require the user to wear an Electroenchepalography (EEG) cap which would translate thought into basic functions like powering a device on and off, selecting a contact or a song from a list, or launching an application, and much more refined actions in the future.
Although the company does not intend to make a brain-controlled phone or tablet in the near future, Samsung’s goal is to demonstrate and ameliorate the feasibility of such an interface, which would be particularly useful to people unable to interact with devices due to mobility issues.

AN electroencephalography (EEG) cap, able to read brain activity and communicate it to an electronic interface
Image Credit: Samsung

Although we may not see EEG-clad commuters on the bus playing telepathic Sudoku any time soon, the recent neurotech developments herald a quiescent truth: in this lifetime we are likelier than not to witness a world where thought alone suffices to command the electronic power around us.  

[i] "Wireless, Implanted Sensor Broadens Range of Brain Research." U.S National Library of Medicine. N.p., 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 May 2013.

[1] The number of annual publications was extrapolated based on a publication search on the PubMed database ( – a National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine database), using the search term “neuron”

[i] "Growing Brain Disorders Lead to Call for More Research." British Neuroscience Association. N.p., 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 May 2013;
[ii] "Neurological Diseases on the Rise." European-Hospital. N.p., 21 June 2010. Web. 11 May 2013.;
[iii] Fox, Maggie. "Alzheimer's Fastest-growing Health Threat, Report Says." NBC News. N.p., 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 May 2013;