Brain-computer interface firm Neuroelectrics wants to eliminate surgery

The non-invasive brain stimulation technology can help patients living with seizures, sleep disorders, and autism.
Chris Young
The Starstim headgear.Neuroelectrics

About a year ago, Elon Musk announced to the world that his company Neuralink had fitted a microchip into a monkey's brain, allowing it to play Pong with its mind.

While the video grabbed headlines and criticism for not being all that groundbreaking, more companies than just Neuralink are making forward strides, of course.

One such firm, the Barcelona and Boston-based Neuroelectrics, has been working on a non-invasive brain stimulation technology that can help patients living with seizures, sleep disorders, and autism. 

Their headgear is laced with small electrodes that inject currents into the brain, which either excite or inhibit neural activity, depending on the wearer's need.

Ana Maiques
Ana Maiques wearing the Starstim headgear. Source: Neuroelectrics

During a panel discussion this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Neuroelectrics co-founder and CEO Ana Maiques claimed that "wearing the gear for 20 minutes, ten days in a row, reduced seizures in users by 50 percent." 

What is Starstim?

The company uses its non-invasive electrical stimulation headgear, called Starstim, to provide a new form of non-invasive neuromodulation called transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) to send electrical currents into the wearer's brain.

In patients suffering from seizures, for example, it can use these currents to reduce excitation in specific regions of the brain. The technology also allows for remote monitoring, which makes it ideal for use during the pandemic, as well as for patients with reduced mobility.

The road to "brain data access"

Last year, Neuroelectrics received the green light from the FDA to conduct clinical trials on human patients suffering from depression.

In a statement at the time, Maiques said Neuroelectrics was "ready to take [its] platform to patients' home. Now more than ever telemedicine, brain monitoring, and brain stimulation at home is needed."

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At MWC, Maiques described the challenges of developing neurotech technology and seeking regulatory approval.

"It’s like stepping on the Moon," she said. She also called for patience despite the incredible potential of neurotech, citing the incredible complexity of the brain, which is made up of roughly a "hundred billion neurons communicating with each other at huge speeds."

"We are a bit far from having brain data access," she said, but that doesn’t mean Neuroelectrics isn't planning for a future in which real-time brain data becomes highly accessible to big tech organizations.

This will bring a "whole new dimension" to the issue of data privacy, she said, and her company aims to stay at the forefront of discussions so that brain data isn’t used to interfere with a person's identity and autonomy.

Though Neuroelectrics' communications inevitably feel low-key when compared to Elon Musk's claims that Neuralink will "solve brain disease," they are carrying out important work, which is already seeing incredibly positive results in human trials.

And perhaps most importantly for many, the technology won't require surgery.

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