Can brain waves be harvested to treat sleep disorders?

A New York company received a federal grant to test a digital health platform that captures the brain waves of a healthy sleeper and transplants them into someone with a sleep disorder.

Imagine using someone else’s thoughts to combat lack of sleep and get a good night’s sleep. A digital health company seeks to make that possible.

NeuroLight, a New York-based company focused on neuromodulation, is using a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to basically transplant brain waves from a healthy sleeper into someone struggling to fall asleep.

The science behind this concept was described by Alexander Poltorak, the company’s founder and president and a researcher at the City College of New York (CUNY), in a September 2021 article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

“Brain states, which correlate with specific motor, cognitive, and emotional states, can be monitored with non-invasive techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) that measure macroscopic cortical activity that manifests as oscillatory network dynamics.” Poltorak wrote. “These rhythmic cortical signatures provide insight into neural activity used to identify pathologic cortical function in numerous neurological and psychiatric conditions. Sensory and transcranial stimulation, which trains the brain to specific brain rhythms, can effectively induce desired brain states ( such as sleep state or attention state) correlated with such cortical rhythms. Because brain states have distinct neural correlates, it may be possible to induce a desired brain state by replicating these neural correlates through stimulation.”

According to Press release Issued this week, Neurolight will use NSF’s $255,851 Small Business Innovation Research grant to create a platform that records the cortical signatures, or brain waves, of a healthy sleeper and, through a digital health device mobile, transmits them to the brain of someone dealing with a sleep problem like insomnia to train them to sleep.

“We propose that brain states can be transferred between people through the acquisition of an associated cortical signature from a donor that, after processing, can be applied to a recipient via sensory or transcranial stimulation,” Poltorak said in the journal article. “This technique may provide a novel and effective neuromodulation approach for the non-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment of a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders for which current treatments are primarily limited to pharmacotherapeutic interventions.”

Company officials said the research can help millions of people dealing with sleep problems, noting that seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the US have been linked to lack of sleep.

The science of neuromodulation, or harvesting the power of electrical impulses for therapeutic benefit, dates back to 1967, when neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy developed implantable dips to use deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat chronic and intractable pain. Early efforts ran into problems, mainly due to the technology of the time, but in 1974 doctors developed less-invasive electrodes that could do the job without damaging the spinal cord.

Today’s technology has evolved significantly since 1974, with digital health devices and platforms that can capture and transmit without harming the human body. Neurotech Reports estimates that the worldwide neuromodulation industry will see $13.3 billion in business in 2022, addressing issues ranging from pain to chronic conditions like epilepsy, migraines, and urinary incontinence.

NeuroLight officials say they are the first company to develop the technology to “transplant mental states from one person to another,” and early small tests have been positive. If this NSF-supported project proves successful, the company could be eligible for up to $17 million in additional funding to continue the work.

“We are honored and pleased that the NSF has awarded us this highly competitive grant,” Poltorak said in the news release. “This grant will support R&D efforts to develop a prototype for the proof-of-concept study.”

Eric Wicklund is HealthLeaders’ Innovation and Technology Editor.

One Comment on “Can brain waves be harvested to treat sleep disorders?”

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