Let’s take a trip to the Clinical Neurotechnology Laboratory led by Prof. Surjo Soekadar at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. They battle brain disorders including neurological and psychiatric diseases such as stroke, spinal cord injury, and depression, using current and emerging technologies.
Neurotechnologies make use of technical devices to record, analyse and selectively modulate maladaptive brain activity, potentially restoring function. They could be used to target the complex mechanisms in brain diseases and are even helpful for instances where successive attempts of other treatment methods do not work, such as in treatment-resistant depression. But of course, there is still so much we don’t know about the brain and using neurotechnologies effectively: that’s where emerging research comes into place!
Examples of neurotechnologies include neuroimaging modes such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which measures changes to the brain’s blood flow reflecting brain activity, and electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the brain’s electrical activity. There are also brain stimulation devices including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and deep brain stimulation (DBS), where electrodes are used to apply electricity to targeted brain areas.
Novel neurotechnologies that are applied in clinical settings by Prof. Surjo’s lab include brain-computer and machine interfaces (BCI/BMI). These convert brain signals of thinking (e.g. moving your hand) into computer commands which drive external devices such as robotic arms, in neurorehabilitation after motor neuron damage. Such applications are currently investigated coupled with noninvasive brain stimulation for treatment of psychiatric disorders like depression, schizophrenia and OCD.
In his recent TEDx talk, Prof. Surjo introduces his patient Katja Felski-Krüger who previously experienced an incapacitating depression for over an year and was treated with non-invasive brain stimulation. Her depression was very severe such that she spent 6 weeks in the hospital and 3 months at a day clinic all to no avail. After a search on the internet she found that Charité, Berlin provided brain stimulation services. Weeks into her treatment she noticed improvements that ultimately helped her get back to things she used to love before her depression, such as calling her friends, gardening, housework, trying out new things, etc. In her words (translated from German to English), “I live again. I have not lived for a year. I live again, and that’s the big difference.”
With the complexity of the brain leading to unsolved mysteries regarding the complete neural basis of brain diseases, the need for new treatment modalities addressing this are necessary. Neurotechnology coupled with existing treatment helps us get closer to tackling these difficult diseases and to improve the quality of life of patients inflicted with them. This is an exciting field with up and coming inventions that are worth knowing about!