A Conscious Industry
The neurosensing segment of the neurotechnology industry does not always get as much press coverage and Wall Street interest as do vendors of neurostimulation devices. But in many ways, the technology and market potential of neurosensing firms is just as promising.
Neurosensing firms include manufacturers of electrophysiological and magnetoencephalography systems, electrodes, electrode caps, signal processing hardware, wireless monitoring systems, and related hardware and software. But increasingly, the unique value of neurosensing is coming from companies who use these devices to make an assessment of an individual’s mental state, propensity for developing a particular neurological disease or disorder, or responsiveness to particular forms of therapy.
As we discuss in our vendor profile this month [see p6], Aspect Medical Systems Inc. offers an excellent example of how neurosensing technology can be customized to analyze or detect specific brain states, each of which may represent a distinct and high-growth market opportunity. That company has leveraged its electrophysiology-based depth-of-consciousness technology into a $77 million public and profitable enterprise. In so doing, Aspect has built strong OEM relationships with several other medical equipment manufacturers and established its BIS algorithm as a type of de facto standard for consciousness monitoring.
As profitable as this activity has been, we have reason to believe that it is only scratching the surface of the potential applications for brain state analysis. We envision the development of a mini industry of brain sensing firms who have identified EEG-based biomarkers or other noninvasive indicators for a wide variety of neurological and psychological disorders. Just as today a BIS index represents a surgical patient’s level of consciousness, perhaps other indices will be available that designate—in a reliable and repeatable manner—depth of depressive state, strength of new memory formation, degree of hunger or satiety, level of sleep debt, or a host of other measurements of brain state.
Of course, as with other forms of mental or cognitive assessment, the arrival of new brain state biomarkers will likely attract scrutiny from detractors concerned about ethical considerations and scientific validity. Vendors in this new mini industry who wish to follow in Aspect Medical’s footsteps would be wise to contemplate these objections well in advance and be prepared to offer viable assurances that testing methods are scientifically rigid and ethically sound. For these reasons and others, we like it when executives of neurotechnology companies are strong supporters of the U.S. Constitution, privacy rights, and international human rights organizations. As such, neurosensing stands to become not just a conscious industry, but an industry with a conscience.
Editor and Publisher