Neuro-1 was the concept of co-creator Christopher Jones who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2007 to his frontal lobe and has been searching for ways to improve his brain function since. He discovered the concept in a Wired magazine article about a community of people who strap sponges soaked in saline to their head and administer current to their brains to augment their brain function. Chris saw opportunity here and ways to improve upon the design. Micro-controllers could be used to regulate the current and the electrodes could be more focused and targeted than a diffuse sponge strapped to the side of his head. He dreamed up a prototype and suggested it to his friend Brian Lutz while walking across the campus at the University of Pennsylvania for Penn Apps. Brian talked Chris into perusing this hack, after all here he would have access to some of the best engineering resources in the world. They also teamed up with Bill Hoag who had never heard of anything like this, but was enthusiastic to be part of it.
We began researching this project and spent the first day investigating methods of current delivery, montages of the skull for electrode placement, clinical research to verify any claims, and so on. We then designed an apparatus to be laser cut on medium density fiber board using living hinges to achieve pliability. In the Rapid Prototyping Lab Dorron, Courtney, and Elizabeth were invaluably helpful in constructing this prototype and direction to resources around campus. From there we sought the help of the mentors at Intel to figure out a wiring schematic. None of us had electronic experience but we were able to construct a Digital Analog Converter out of an Arduino and deliver a measured amount of current to specific electrodes on our apparatus.
In our research we found that delivering low level current to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex would acheive a number of very desirable outcomes, so we decided to focus on that region of the brain. The DLPFC is sort of a hub for executive functioning in the brain. It controls things like working memory, cognitive flexibility, planning, inhibition, and abstract reasoning. We also found that a number of conditions such as Schizophrenia, depression, substance abuse, and alchoholism demonstrate decreased levels of activity in this region of the brain.
Neur-1 can be used to increase brain activity in this region of the brain. The result of this could be world changing. low level voltage could be used in the treatment of neurological or mental health disorders. It can be used to increase the brain's ability to encode new information by strengthening neural pathways and thus physically altering the structure of the brain making it more conducive to performing particular thought patterns. This could be extremely helpful for students cramming for exams or anyone who would appreciate a boost in cognitive performance. A further application for this technology is the modulation of pain-related neural networks by acting on the primary motor cortex.
Neur-1 is Tesla's wet dream. Using electrical current we could potentially free ourselves from our dependency on pharmaceuticals by reinforcing the brain's ability to function. The long term ramifications for this technology are limitless and we've only just begun to scratch the surface.