The National Future Forum: Keeping track of brain health is first step to implants that restore memory

AnthroTronix was approached by military authorities to develop medical software that screened the brains of soldiers for problems such as depression, concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder

Abu Dhabi, UAE.  May 8, 2018. (L-R) Mustafa Alrawi, Olivier Oullier and Cori Lathan on the dialogue on Brain Matters:  The Future of Human Enhancement.
Victor Besa / The National

How many of you have ever misplaced your car keys? How many of you have forgotten the name of someone you knew well?

An entire audience of about 200 entrepreneurs, ministers and scientists at the forum raised their hands in response to these questions asked by the head of a biomedical engineering research and development company.

“How do you know if that’s normal or if you have the early onset of Alzheimer’s?” said Dr Corinna Lathan, neuroscientist, co-founder and chief ­executive of AnthroTronix.

Apparently, no one knows if it is normal to forget names or where you last placed your keys, “because everyone ignores their brain”, Dr Lathan said.

“Tracking your brain health is critical over time if you want to detect when a change occurs, such as due to a concussion, depression or the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

The cost of ignoring your brain is scary. More than 450 million people worldwide are affected by mental illness, and athletes have a 20 per cent chance of becoming concussed.

“We also have neuro-developmental disorders such Parkinson’s or autism, and then we have Alzheimer’s,” Dr Lathan said.

It is believed that last year, 50 million people worldwide were affected by Alzheimer’s.

Dr Lathan said her company had been approached by military authorities to develop medical software that screened the brains of soldiers for problems such as depression, concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We thought it would be easy but little did we know that it would be the most impactful thing we ever did,” she said.

Dr Lathan envisions a future with implants that can enhance human functions and cure ailments.

She predicted “that I will replace contact lenses with vision implants that will give me microscopic vision, and I also expect that I’ll have brain implants that will not only restore and retain my memory, but also prevent Alzheimer’s”.

In the future there will be technology for well-being and prevention instead of just diagnoses, "thereby reinventing brain health", Dr Lathan said.

Fellow panellist and neuroscientist Prof Olivier Oullier, who writes for The National's Brain Matters column, spoke of the need to better understand the brain.

Prof Oullier, president of the medical and technology company Emotiv, said every third person suffered a mental disorder, with depression being the most common.

“More than 350 million people are suffering from depression,” he said.

“By 2030, the financial toll of human mental health will be higher than the accumulated cost of cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes.

“Yet less than 3 per cent of the health budget is allocated to brain health.

“Nowadays we hear about record data of virtually everything but yet how do we make sense of data because, as we are talking about the future of human enhancement, the one thing we are missing is a better understanding of what makes as human – ourselves, our brains.”

To date, Prof Oullier said, widespread research has been conducted on personalities and the understanding of human behaviour using methods such as surveys and questionnaires. Yet little has been invested in understanding and recording brain activity.

His mission is access to ­affordable brain health for all.

“In order to enhance human beings, we need to first better understand them and better understand their brains,” Prof Oullier said.