Brain gain

Brainnovations photo courtesy of IBT

Incubator Brainnovations presents the ventures branding Israel the "brain nation."

Five years before suffering a severe stroke, the late Shimon Peres founded Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), an NGO for fostering Israeli brain technologies. This was no coincidence. Peres, with his reputation for farsightedness, was fully aware that at his age (88 at the time), the chances that he would suffer a stroke in the coming years were over 50%. With Peres's help, IBT raised hundreds of millions of dollars.

Today, a new company in the incubator founded under IBT auspices is working on early diagnosis of stroke. Other companies dealing in treatment of brain diseases and improving brain functioning among healthy people have also been founded in the IBT incubator. The incubator in which these exciting technologies were developed, managed by Dr. Yael Fuchs Shlomai, is called Brainnovations. Founder and chairman Rafi Gidron and executive director Miri Polachek manage IBT. IBT has two goals: to develop technologies for increasing life expectancy and improving the quality of life, and to brand Israel internationally as the brain nation.

Stroke: A helmet for home diagnosis

Re-Mind has developed a mobile personalized device for early diagnosis of stroke through monitoring of brain activity. In diagnosis of stroke, every minute counts. The company managers say that, as of now, less than 10% of stroke victims manage to reach the hospital within 4.5 hours of the beginning of the stroke, the time span that makes effective medicinal treatment possible.

In order to provide an accurate result, the helmet must compare the patient's basic situation with his situation at the time of the suspected stroke, which requires a personalized device. The first target market for the product consists of those who have already had a stroke, because 30% of them will have another stroke within five years.

CEO Eli Gelbart, engineer and electromagnetics specialist, and Amit Rappel, whose background is in database engineering, founded Re-Mind. The company is in the process of constructing a prototype.

Parkinson's Disease: The sensor that warns that an attack is coming

Parkinson's Disease patients are constantly at the mercy of their disease. The symptoms can increase unexpectedly with no warning, leaving them transfixed in a supermarket or shaking uncontrollably at a family event. Were it possible to predict these events in advance, patients could adapt the dosages of their drugs, thereby avoiding a sudden attack.

Binamic Health has developed a system that uses standard-issue sensors to identify the signs that can predict an attack. The mother of one of the founders is a relatively young Parkinson's Disease victim, and the company originated from an effort to preserve her independence.

The sensors measure two important things: small changes in patients' heartbeat, and changes in their movement patterns, by using accelerometers. "With these data, patients can already be given enough information to enable them to 'straighten out their day'," says Binamic CEO Guy Zurawel, meaning that they can be given a precise dosage of the drug.

"So far, data have been collected from one patient for three months proving that the technology is feasible. The company will soon begin clinical trials," Zurawel adds, noting that there are currently products on the market designed to predict attacks, but only when the symptoms have already appeared. Binamic's preliminary tests indicate that it can provide earlier warning. The company was founded by two PhD candidates: deep learning specialist Shay Zweig and cognitive neuroscientist Amir Tal, a specialist in predictive algorithms. Zurawel also holds a PhD in computational neuroscience, and has a decade of experience in senior positions in telecommunications and cellular apps. The company is raising money in its seed round.

Radiology: The algorithm that will shorten queues

The shortage of radiologists is creating a real problem. Patients who have had brain scans are having their treatment delayed because there are not enough specialists to analyze the tests results in time. These delays sometimes cause loss of life and detract from the quality of life, and the health system is aware of the problem. TailorMed Technologies is trying to develop a solution - a machine that can learn how to analyze brain scans. A group of three IDF Talpiot science program alumni - CEO Elad Walach, CTO Michael Braginsky, and VP R&D Guy Reiner, together with chief medical officer Dr. Gal Yaniv, founded the company.

Walach says that there are currently many technologies that use algorithms to analyze medical images, but most of the companies are developing specialized systems for each disease, with an emphasis on avoiding errors. In contrast, TailorMed identifies and unearths a variety of cases of abnormalities in a scan of a given organ, and its goal is immediate improvement (without sacrificing accuracy).

For this purpose, the company has devised a system that integrates computer vision, machine learning, and even analysis of texts in order to understand the medical history and the patient's complaint, and cross reference it with the scan. The system even helps a radiologist write a report quickly, so that he or she can have more time for the scan.

"Globes": Will your products and those of other companies in this field eventually replace the radiologists?

Walach: "As of now, and for the foreseeable future, our goal is the opposite - to support the radiologist. I don't believe that we'll take the human being out of the equation in the near future, but we may enable doctors with other specialties to partially analyze the scan when a radiologist is unavailable. It's like an autonomous car. I wouldn't travel in a car like that yet, but an excellent Mobileye system can be developed before that."

Walach says that the company's mission now is to provide the algorithm with an enormous quantity of information. "A big data algorithm has to be validated on a real database of big big data; otherwise, reality can easily surprise you," he says.

Control of urges: Look before you leap

This is also brain science. The Pauzz company has developed an app that encourages people to stop before they give in to a momentary urge, with the aim of replacing the urge with more useful behavior. The first application of the idea is in diets.

"Our background is neither in psychology nor brain science," says Pauzz cofounder and CEO Limor Shilony. "In the past two years, however, we've studied motivation and changing habits in depth." Shilony's background is in software, product development, and designing user interfaces, while co-founder Paula Rudich's background is in business development and marketing consumer products.

"Globes": What did you learn about motivations and habits during this period?

Shilony: "That the brain is flexible, and that habits can be changed, but it's not just a matter of will power. There are also other ways. The smaller we begin, the more significant change we can achieve, providing that we repeat the new habit frequently. Another insight was that an urge is like a wave. If we learn how to ride the wave, in other words wait a little before giving in, and physically and mentally distance ourselves from the object of our craving, it will eventually pass."

How did you get to this field?

"One day, I was standing and explaining to my children that they can't say whatever they feel like, and they have to count to 10 first. Suddenly, I realized that while I was making this explanation, out of frustration and nervousness, I had eaten the leftovers from their pizza, even though I had just promised myself to switch to a healthier diet. I told myself, 'You're lecturing your children, but what kind of example are you giving them?' Since then, whenever I have temptations, I stand up and lecture myself, and the desire goes away."

Pauzz's idea is that as soon as a desire appears, you reach out your hand to the telephone instead of the candy (that is the first habit that needs to be changed), and the app encourages stopping and thinking before fulfilling the desire. You can chat with a program that simulates a human conversation that encourages thinking about emotions or situations that lead to a craving, and also think about the price of giving in to the craving, and about the reasons why you want to keep away from it. The app also selects additional interventions for the user that have been found to be useful, in guided imagination, meditation, breathing, and so forth."

"A focus group of 30 women said that the app had increased their awareness of the source of their cravings," Shilony says, "Research literature in this field says that awareness of the trigger is a large part of the solution. Those women, even if they did not completely succeed in withstanding their urges, ate a lot less. If you eventually ate the cake once, we're there to calm you and tell you it's not a disaster. Feelings of guilt only reinforce the negative eating cycle. The app is very non-judgmental."

At the beginning, the idea was to concentrate on women, but it turned out that men also have strong food cravings, and the next generation of the product is unisex. The product is currently in the alpha stage, and is not yet available for downloading.

Blindness: Seeing through headphones

When you lose one sense, the others go into action to make up for it. RenewSenses makes special and extraordinary use of this characteristic of the human brain to teach us new things about brain activity.

The company's goal is to draw a mental map of the world for blind people using senses other than sight. Colors and forms are represented by music, and distances by vibration. Users do not know in advance which color is represented by an organ, and which by a piano. They learn the world of sound and vibration as they move in space. This natural learning makes blind people feel that they understand where various objects and barriers are located, and how they "look." The first trials also showed that use of the technology causes brain activity in different areas associated with sight, even though the people don't actually see.

The product is in the prototype stage, and its launch is expected a year from now. Prof. Amir Amedi developed it, and the company is managed by CEO Daphna Rosenbaum.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders: "Use the crazy science for treatment at home"

Today, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) are the leading reason for treatment of children with drugs. This treatment deters many parents and children. INNOSPHERE is offering a different solution, which it says significantly reduces the symptoms: a home helmet that magnetically stimulates the brain with electrodes. The child can wear the helmet at home or when engaging in any other activity. The company will soon begin research trials at Tel Aviv University to test the product's effectiveness.

Three electronic engineering graduates of Technion Israel Institute of Technology - CTO Ehab Shakour, quality and regulation affairs officer Gabriel Shakour, and R&D manager Yousef Badran - founded INNOSPHERE. The CEO is Adv. Rami Shacour, a lawyer by profession and a graduate of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, who has already achieved an exit with a plastics company. "The technology was originally developed by Oxford University Prof. Roi Cohen Kadosh. He is known as a major expert in magnetic brain stimulation, and has even written a book entitled, 'The Stimulated Brain.' Steven Hawking said that his technology is real, and will be part of our future," Ehab Shakour says. "It's a new field of research that has been getting hot over the past two years. We're building a bridge between crazy science and the possibility of home treatment, which is a condition for successful treatment. After all, children won't come to a clinic three times a week."

The stimulation is primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for controlling and overseeing other parts of the brain. "What is special about the technology of our helmet," Shakour says, "is that it contains many electrodes touching the entire brain surface, but we selectively operate only specific electrodes in order to achieve the precision relevant to each patient, compared with helmets currently used in research in the field, which require a 20-minute calibration process."

INNOSPHERE's electrodes must also be dry, so that the stimulation is focused. This is a further advantage, because they are more pleasant to the patient, and do not create a tingling feeling.

Alzheimer's Disease: Early diagnosis

BioEye has developed technology that monitors eye movement through a cell phone. BioEye cofounder CEO Eran Ferri, whose background is in artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CTO Dr. Dovi Yellin , an algorithm and machine learning specialist, decided to use this technology to predict a decline in cognitive capabilities in order to prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

The currently prevailing approach among scientists and Alzheimer's Disease drug developers is based on the view that intervention is taking place at too late a stage, when brain damage is irreversible. Although there is no early treatment on the market, many companies all over the world are searching for methods for early diagnosis of the disease, for example based on chemical signs or brain imaging. Diagnosis through a look at a cell phone is innovative, and also much simpler than the alternative methods. It is very suitable for use in a survey test.

"Globes": Meanwhile, until there is an effective treatment, do people in general want to know so early that they will get Alzheimer's Disease?

Yellin: "We believe that some of the drugs currently in advanced trials will reach the market in the coming years. But even before there's a drug to prevent the disease, measures can be taken to slow the deterioration, such as suitable nutrition, exercise, social activity, and brain challenges."

BioEye is in the prototype stage, and Yellin notes that in order for the test to be a survey test for cognitive deterioration, comprehensive clinical trials must be conducted and approval obtained from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Yellin: "Later, we'll have a prodigious asset - a big data database of eye signs, on the basis of which we can develop additional products by ourselves, or grant a license to others."

Autism: Studying social situations

One of the major challenges of people with autism is understanding social situations. Sentidio is developing a system for teaching children with autism how to communicate in such situations through the use of interactive films. CMO Shani Peer, an occupational therapist, CEO Ariel Bruner, an air force veteran whose brother has special needs, and CTO Rony Kirsch, whose background is in learning machines, founded the company.

As of now, treatment exercises are performed by a single psychologist or therapist, but treatment hours for children with autism are limited. Sentidio enables a psychologist to provide a child with tools for continuing treatment at home. "We're trying to diversify the scenarios as much as possible. For example, a situation in which a child wants to play with something that belongs to somebody else - the child can ask politely, and we'll display a situation in which the other child lets him, but we'll also display a situation in which the other child does not let him, and show what happens," Bruner says. Peer adds, "In some cases, the situations are proposed to us by the children themselves"

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 20, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

Brainnovations photo courtesy of IBT
Brainnovations photo courtesy of IBT
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