25 November 2022
Emerging technology and other trends from SfN 2022
John Bernstein, Clinical Scientist at Cambridge Cognition, explores the trends and exciting developments that were discussed at the 2022 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference.
In November 2022, I attended the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in San Diego. I’ve truly enjoyed being able to attend in-person conferences this year, and to learn about cutting-edge work being conducted to both advance our understanding of the brain and improve the lives of patients living with neurological and psychiatric disorders. SfN is among the largest conferences I’ve ever attended, and there were a huge range of topics, talks and technologies on the agenda. Here are my top three takeaways from the conference.
1. Technology plays an increasingly essential role in major neuroscientific advances
A central focus of the conference highlighted how technology and neuroscience could complement each other to further our understanding of the brain and nervous system and the conditions that affect them. It was fascinating to see how big, expansive technologies can be applied to neuroscience research. As these technologies continue to develop in both their realism and capacity to capture complex but important aspects of everyday life (such as one’s ability to drive a vehicle or grocery shop), I expect that they will in time provide valuable insights regarding individuals’ thoughts and behaviours that are unavailable at present.
A key theme that has emerged in recent years is how to harness technology in order to reliably assess cognitive function in an individual’s home, rather than in-clinic. Certainly, this has been an area of interest for our scientific team at Cambridge Cognition in our work on decentralized clinical trials and remote patient monitoring. There were some very interesting talks discussing devices that could help patients with some of their unmet needs without them needing to leave the house. One of the most impressive ones was a device that, through a minimally-invasive brain procedure, could be used by people living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (also known as Motor Neurone Disease) who had severe physical difficulties moving their limbs, digits or speaking. Once implanted, the device could detect neurological signals that allowed the patient to send text messages via a Smartphone. They could also shop and bank online. The team behind the device showed a case study where a man with ALS was able to have a conversation with his wife more easily than he had in several years, which really emphasized the impact on patients’ function and how vital it is that advances in neurotechnology be scalable and useful in patients’ own homes.
One of the most interesting talks I went to involved using voice to measure cognition, which is an area we are an expert in through our NeuroVocalixTM platform. I was struck by the wide range of clinical populations for which this technology proved useful, including Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), ALS and schizophrenia. The researchers also applied this same technology for patients living with chronic pain; through a combination of vocal assessment and journaling, they could predict which patients would demonstrate reductions in their pain over time. Such work highlights how voice-based assessments may be used not only for evaluative purposes, but perhaps in the future as a means of evaluating treatment effectiveness as well.
2. Our customers continue to find CANTABTM helpful and user-friendly
At conferences, I’m always excited to meet researchers who use our products and learn about the multitude of ways CANTABTM is being used to better understand the brain. I enjoyed chatting with several academics and industry partners who had used CANTABTM as part of their research, including in studies of sleep, traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease. I was pleased to hear that they found the platform highly accessible and user-friendly, with the ease of access to data being particularly praised.
One of the more exciting applications of CANTABTM in an industry setting that I came across involved a pair of robot-like arms and a two-dimensional virtual reality environment to augment traditional cognitive assessments, as a means of providing additional insights into patients’ sensory and physical difficulties. I was excited to hear about this technology was used in combination with our CANTABTM tasks in numerous studies – and even more excited to be able to try out the tasks myself. I look forward to seeing how academics and technology companies adapt and apply our tools to make advances in clinical neuroscience in the future.
3. Psychedelics are an area of rapid growth
Many of the talks and posters that I saw focused on psychedelics and how they have the potential to provide patient benefit across a variety of conditions, including PTSD, depression and anxiety. While much of the research in this area is still predominantly at the pre-clinical stage, it was encouraging to see several academic institutions becoming involved in this important work. Several pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations specializing in psychedelics trials also attended SfN, and it was a pleasure to hear from them about their promising results thus far and the relevance that collecting cognitive performance data will have for this work moving forward. I’m looking forward to following the development of this field over the coming years and assisting in these trials through incorporating Cambridge Cognition’s cognitive assessment tools.