With neurotechnology, the lame don’t just walk — they race

Neurotech, the science of putting together man and machine, is set to be the next big breakthrough area for Israeli technology

In the recently completed London Paralympics, Claire Lomas, paralyzed from the chest down, was able to saunter her way across the marathon finish line. It took her a while – 16 days – to complete the circuit, but as someone who has been unable to even move her legs for five years, Lomas was extremely grateful for the opportunity

How was she able to finish the marathon — or for that matter, even walk? Lomas was able to accomplish her feat thanks to a special hi-tech walking brace suit, called the ReWalk, made by Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies. Lomas’ accomplishment is notable not just for itself; it also sheds light on what has until been on less well-known area of Israeli activity in life sciences, neuroscience and neurotechnology.

Argo is one of a number of Israeli companies that straddle the fence between muscle and brain, enabling people with debilitating physical and medical conditions to overcome the limitations imposed on them, using technology. Neurotechnology can involve things as diverse as imaging to get a better idea of what is happening in the brain, stimulating the brain to enable or enhance movement, brain implants to help those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and more.

Another Israeli company working in the field is Nanoretina, which is developing 
an ultra small, easy to implant, 
artificial retina designed to restore sight. Bio-Retina incorporates various nano-size components in one tiny, flat implant, can be implanted in about a half hour, and will restore sight to the blind almost instantaneously, the company says. The company already has a working prototype, and clinical trials next year.

Both Argo and Nanoretina are companies that work with BIRD, the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, which, along with the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), sponsored the US-Israel Neurotechnology and Neuroscience Conference, held in Washington to enhance cooperation in the field. Leading scientists from academia and industry gathered to showcase the latest research and cutting edge technologies in the US and Israel for investigating brain function and brain disorders.

“Neurotechnology is the next big thing,” Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of BIRD, told the Times of Israel. “Congress is set soon to approve the National Neurotechnology Initiative, which will provide federal funding to worthy projects in the area.”

BIRD’s job is to encourage industrial and business cooperation and partnerships between American and Israeli firms, and Yudilevich sees a great deal of opportunity for Israeli companies, leveraging Israel’s high-level research in the neurotechnology. “There is a great deal of academic activity in the field in Israel,” he said.

By partnering with American companies, Israeli companies can use Israel-developed technology to enhance both their American partners, as well as their own, development of practical applications of the research.

Israel is perfectly positioned to become a leader in neurotech, Yudilevich said. “We have a very advanced medical device industry, and are leaders in software for medical applications, both essential areas in neurotech.

Nazareth-based Alpha-Omega, for example, is a leader in neurotechnology devices, and another company, Elminda, has developed a new tool that measures brain activity to indicate treatment effects for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ADHD, and others.”

Brain research is all the rage these days. While Israeli neurotech mavens were meeting in Washington, President Shimon Peres was introducing a new Israeli effort to promote discovery of novel ways to cure diseases of the brain and enhance lives with brain research — with the worthiest idea garnering a prize of a million dollars. Israel Brain Technologies aims to build devices that will interact with the brain.

“The human mind represents a most complicated challenge,” said Yudilevich. “The conference we held in Washington allowed Israeli and American experts to present new research in neurotechnology, in order to foster cooperation and joint investments that will lead to major breakthroughs in brain research.”

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