When a 25-year-old man suffered a severe brain injury in a traffic accident, he was whisked to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
But despite consequently falling into a coma, his brain is alive again, through the sounds of science.
Instead of electricity, this postmodern Prometheus was reanimated with the use of sound waves, 19 days after he initially fell into a coma.
A new method of sonic stimulation developed by Alexander Bystritsky, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, basically jump-started the patient’s brain.
This successful “first in man” clinical trial demonstrated a potential low-cost alternative to existing treatments for severe brain injury.
“Low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation,” or LIFUP, excited the neurons in the patient’s thalamus, which is the brain’s central processing unit, as detailed by researchers in a July 22, 2016, paper published in the journal Brain Stimulation.
Developed by privately held BrainSonix Inc, Professor Bystritsky’s BXPulsar 1001 LIFUP device created and delivered a small sphere of acoustic energy with a pulse repetition frequency of 100 hertz and pulse width of 0.5 milliseconds.
According to BrainSonix, its patented technology “allows targeting of specific neuronal circuits using fMRI [functional magnetic resonance imaging], identification of malfunctioning circuits using fMRI ‘feedback’ and repair of the circuits using LIFUP to activate or inhibit them.”
Researchers administered 10 “sonications,” each 30 seconds in duration, separated by pauses of 30 seconds, over a 10-minute period.
Before the treatment, the patient showed only minimal signs of consciousness and understanding speech. The day of the treatment, after “sonication,” the patient showed measurable improvement — he was able to reach for objects in response to prompts from his caregivers.
The day after treatment, his “Coma Recovery Scale-Revised” score had improved from CRS-R 15 to CRS-R 17.
And within three days, he’d regained full language comprehension, responded to commands and communicated with “yes” and “no” head gestures. These are all behaviors consistent with emergence from a “minimally conscious state.”
As Martin Monti, associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA and lead author of a study detailing the new technique, told UCLA Newsroom, “The changes were remarkable.”
There isn’t much energy involved, either, so it’s a relatively safe procedure.
And according to Monti, this use of ultrasound “directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive.”
This is a critical innovation.
Rather than implanting electrodes directly inside the thalamus in a pretty risky surgical procedure, doctors simply attached a device about 3 inches in diameter and administered the treatment in an MRI scanner.
The ability to target very specific areas of the brain is also critical. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, for example, is also non-invasive and effective, but it doesn’t target specific parts of the brain – the stimulated area is very large. And it doesn’t incorporate neuroimaging, which helps isolate parts of the brain that require treatment.
Other electrical and magnetic stimulation devices, such as cranial electrotherapy stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation, among many others, aren’t targeted procedures. And the Food and Drug Administration has questioned their effectiveness.
Paul Vespa, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, will lead additional LIFUP tests on several more patients, beginning this fall.
If its viability is supported, BrainSonix will likely take steps toward building a portable device.
Such a “helmet” might someday even help patients wake up from vegetative states.
This is an exciting breakthrough. A new way of using an old technology.
We’ve studied acoustics – the science of sound – for nearly 3,000 years now, since Pythagoras wrote about the mathematical properties of stringed instruments.
Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered the piezoelectric effect in 1880, which enabled us to use transducers to generate and detect ultrasonic waves.
And medical ultrasonography has been a key tool for diagnostic imaging for at least 50 years, most familiar to us parents who got their first looks at their babies through its obstetric application. But it’s also used by anesthesiologists, cardiologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, and urologists.
Now we’re seeing its application in disciplines outside medicine.
Ultrasound cameras, for example, help companies in the oil and gas, aerospace, power generation, nuclear, and automotive industries diagnose infrastructure corrosion and flaws, thus protecting valuable assets and preventing major accidents and downtime.
And U.K.-based startup Ultrahaptics is exploring the use of ultrasound as a haptic (touch) technology to replace, for example, elevator buttons in hospitals, which studies have shown have more bacteria on them than toilet seats.
But BrainSonix is pioneering a therapy that overcomes the severe limitations on existing treatments for patients suffering severe brain injuries. Such patients can lose almost all autonomy, some of them on a temporary basis, some of them permanently.
With regard to the potential portable device, BrainSonix is looking at a substantial market opportunity: Research and Markets valued the global portable ultrasound device market at approximately $946.5 million in 2015. And it’s forecast to grow to $1.274 billion by 2021.
Innovation around the edges will drive much of that growth – making existing devices more rugged, for example, or making them useful in the field while also cutting costs.
BrainSonix is onto something different — a more compelling innovation, with probably a much greater compound annual growth rate than the 5% rate predicted for the normal portable ultrasound industry.
Rates of survival after severe brain injury have certainly improved due to significant advances in modern intensive care medicine. But there are still a lot of people that don’t recover from comas and are left in a vegetative or minimally conscious state for the rest of their lives.
As the UCLA researchers point out, “These conditions place great emotional and financial strain on families, lead to increased burn-out rates among caretakers, impose financial stress on medical structures and public finances due to the costs of prolonged intensive care, and raise difficult legal and ethical questions.”
But more than that, BrainSonix’s technology will help people talk, walk, and live normally again.
Humanity’s first open-source, “computer numerical control” farming machine will help you grow your own food on your own plot of land – be it backyard, greenhouse, or rooftop – whether or not you know a turnip from a truck or an ear of corn from cauliflower ear.
That’s the promise of FarmBot, which exceeded its July launch goal of $100,000 in sales by $713,235.
FarmBot describes its “Drag-and-Drop Farming” process this way:
Graphically design your farm by dragging and dropping plants into the map. The game-like interface is learned in just a few minutes so you’ll be growing in no time. Plants are automatically spaced and growing regimens can be applied upon planting.
As Brad Templeton of Singularity Hub writes, “For the non-gardening gardener, you would just order cartridges online with seeds, nutrients, or weed killer, plug them in and let it run. Then eat whatever is at the peak of flavor. The app could also arrange trading with neighbors — everybody likes being generous to neighbors with home produce.”
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily