This Brain Imaging Device Could Impact Understanding Psychedelic Trips
One of the central questions that psychedelic researchers are asking is, “How do psychedelics affect the brain?” Several brain imaging studies have helped to illuminate how compounds like psilocybin and LSD alter brain activity. But now a new brain imaging device could provide further answers.
Canadian life sciences company Cybin has entered into a partnership with Los Angeles-based neurotech company Kernel to create a wearable brain imaging device (known as Flow) that will be used in clinical trials. Cybin wants to utilize the technology to better develop psilocybin products. This is intended for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), one of the most common mental health conditions.
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The Need For Kernel’s Brain Imaging Device
Kernel’s Flow helmet is a non-invasive, state-of-the-art neuroimaging system that provides real-time information about brain activity during a psychedelic experience. This kind of data has been lacking in clinical trials on psychedelics. Currently, researchers are relying on limited subjective information from patients. The absence of real-time quantitative data is a limitation in the development of new compounds targeting psychiatric and neurological conditions.
Flow, however, allows researchers to map a psychedelic trip as it happens. This could lead to the creation of even more effective psychedelic therapy. For example, the quantitative measurements enabled by Flow could improve the delivery and scaling of its psychedelic treatments.
Bryan Johnson, Founder and CEO of Kernel, stated the following:
“Cybin’s visionary approach to understanding and treating mental illness through psychedelic therapeutics opens a new frontier for addressing human health and wellness. This opportunity with Cybin will assist the transition from subjective self-reporting to longitudinal, quantitative measurements and insights, thereby offering the promise of data-driven, personalized treatment protocols that may significantly improve safety and efficacy.”
How Will This Impact Mental Health Studies?
Kernel’s brain imaging helmet has taken part in scientific studies, covering research such as pain quantification and traumatic brain injury. Both Cybin and Kernel are hopeful that applying the technology to psychedelic research will lead to revolutionary mental health treatments.
For many people struggling with depression and addiction, these issues can be hard-to-treat or treatment-resistant. This means that conventional treatments either don’t work very effectively for some people, or they don’t work at all. In spite of treatment, depression can still be severe and recur. Many people struggling with addiction may find themselves stuck in a continual cycle of getting clean before relapsing. Depression, addiction, and other mental disorders can be extremely distressing, debilitating, and disruptive. These issues can make it difficult to function day-to-day, while negatively impacting many areas of life.
The prevalence of mental health issues has been increasing in recent years (especially in light of COVID-19). We need new treatments that can effectively tackle the growing mental health crisis. Technology like Kernel’s brain imaging device could play an important role in meeting this demand.
How Does the Flow Brain Imaging Device Work?
The device is a near-infrared spectroscopy system that measures brain activity using cortical hemodynamics. More than 1,000 light sensors in the helmet bounce off the brain, allowing researchers to detect alterations in blood flow. Researchers can then use this data on blood flow to draw conclusions about local neural activity during a psychedelic experience.
The time-domain functional near-infrared spectroscopy that is built into Flow is considered a gold standard method for detecting blood flow in the brain. This system offers richer brain signals than traditional near-infrared spectroscopy devices. It achieves this by applying short pulses of light and accurately capturing the distribution of photons (light particles) from each pulse.
The Future of Psychedelic Treatments
We are already seeing signs that psychedelic therapies will become mainstream mental health treatments. For example, in 2019, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that psilocybin therapy was a “breakthrough therapy”, an action that helps accelerate the normally slow process of drug development and review. In 2017, the FDA also designated MDMA therapy with “breakthrough therapy” status.
The legal landscape surrounding psychedelics is changing, too. Last year, Oregon legalized psilocybin for therapeutic use. Biotechnology companies like Kernel are gearing up for future legislative changes, which is why investing in psychedelics. This could make psychedelic therapy a multi-billion dollar industry in the future. Cybin has upcoming sponsored clinical work, which will use data from Flow’s brain imaging device to inform the design of future clinical studies. Doug Drysdale, CEO of Cybin, has this to say.
“We are delighted to partner with Kernel to study the utility of Flow in sponsored clinical settings. This new cornerstone component of our sponsored clinical programs follows a record-setting capital raise, listing on the NEO Exchange and the acquisition of Adelia Therapeutics Inc., which added significant scientific capabilities, novel molecules, delivery mechanisms and intellectual property.”
There are several institutions and companies hoping to develop new and more effective psychedelic treatments. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York announced the launch of its Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research. This center will research compounds such as psilocybin and MDMA in order to discover novel treatments that will help veterans and everyday people who are suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Meanwhile, companies such as Beckley Psytech and Atai Life Sciences have received multi-million dollar investments that will enable them to develop psychedelic compounds for the treatment of various neurological and mental health issues.
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Using the Brain Imaging Device Outside of a Clinical Setting
Kernel doesn’t just want to limit their brain imaging technology to clinical trials and the development of psychedelic treatments.
As we can see, this brain imaging device holds great potential in improving our understanding of how psychedelics work. And it is through these gains in knowledge that we will be able to develop highly effective treatments.