Seeing the Light

Harnessing
Brain Power

 

A concept that began in 2010 at the University of Michigan’s Direct Brain Interface Laboratory in Ann Arbor has become the foundation of Neurable, a promising new startup. 

The company — founded by former U-M student researchers Ramses Alcaide, Michael Thompson, James Hamet and Adam Molnar — recently moved from Ann Arbor to Cambridge, Mass., after securing $2 million in seed funding to bring its software platform to market. 

The technology involves innovative algorithms to detect a person’s brain activity, recorded with an EEG cap, and turn it into real-time control of software and a variety of connected devices using the power of the brain. According to the company’s website, the technology has enabled people to play games, control toys and drive a full-sized car using only their thoughts. 

The company’s core technology was developed by Alcaide while working on his Ph.D. in neuroscience under U-M’s Dr. Jane Huggins, a renowned researcher in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and a faculty member in the departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and of Biomedical Engineering. Huggins leads U-M’s Direct Brain Interface Laboratory, which develops ways to interpret brain activity to enable people with disabilities to operate technology.

Alcaide, who often speaks of watching his uncle struggle after losing the use of both legs in an automobile accident, became determined to help people with disabilities. Neurable’s ultimate goal, according to its website: To create a world where people live without limitations.

Huggins supports this goal with her ongoing work at U-M’s Direct Brain Interface Laboratory. “There is a lot of potential to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities and the need is so great,” she says, acknowledging that brain-computer interface technology will always be a small market with funding challenges. 

Neurable, she says — created out of a desire to commercialize this technology — is doing its part to move the initiative forward. Ultimately, this will help those with disabilities to live a better quality of life.

 

 

Restoring vision was the motivation behind a novel gene therapy developed by a group of scientists at Wayne State University in Detroit. The group came together to create RetroSense Therapeutics in 2009. 

Now located in Ann Arbor, Mich., the biotechnology company’s gene therapy is designed to restore functional vision to patients robbed of theirs through retinal degenerative disorders. The gene therapy has realized encouraging results in animal models.

In retinal degenerative conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), photoreceptors die, thus reducing a patient’s visual acuity and ability to see in dim lighting. Progressive loss of these photoreceptors leads to blindness. The RetroSense gene therapy will deliver a new photosensitivity gene to retinal cells to restore the ability of eyes to sense light. 

The treatment involves a one-time injection into the eye, similar to routine injections given by retina specialists. The gene therapy has been proven safe in human clinical studies.