Brain Scanning in Space: The Tech Firm Revolutionizing Brain Monitoring

Brain.space’s brain mapping and scanning technology is already raising serious funds and has its first experiment in space in the works

Simi Spotler
Simi Spotler
Brain.space's helmet uses EEG to track brainwaves continuously
Brain.space's helmet uses EEG to track brainwaves continuously Credit: Courtesy
Simi Spotler
Simi Spotler

Prof. Shai Efrati works at the Shamir Medical Center (formerly Assaf Harofeh). A few years ago, a child less than a year old came to the unit he runs with brain damage due to a fall. During her lengthy treatment, Efrati realized that he lacked a test that could monitor brain activity during treatment.

“Today, MRIs and CTs are used – tests that take a long time and can’t be performed regularly because of the radiation they emit,” explained Yair Levy, cofounder and CEO of Brain.space. The company, together with Efrati and other partners, therefore decided to try to develop an alternative test.

Levy said the roots of its product lie in a test developed back in the 19th century. “There’s a test called an EEG that monitors brainwaves via neurons that measure brain activity,” he said. “But its capabilities are very limited and require a high level of skill, as well as manual measurements with a ruler when it’s hooked up. And the results aren’t precise because it’s sensitive to being connected in exactly the right place.”

Brain.space is therefore trying to use the EEG as the basis of a solution that would integrate hardware and software and be usable on a daily basis. It has developed a helmet that sits on the patient’s head and has several electrodes inside. The helmet itself adjusts the placement of the electrodes with great precision, using the software the company developed, and then reads the patient’s brainwaves in real time.

Levy, 46, doesn’t come from this field. In the past, he worked at Assa Abloy, where he led the development and marketing of a digital lock for private homes called ENTR.

But the three other founders do have experience in the medical field. Efrati, 51, the company’s chairman, heads Shamir’s nephrology unit as well as its research and development unit. Amir Hadanny, 40, the company’s medical director, is a neurosurgeon with a doctorate in bioinformatics and a brain researcher with a broad background in EEG monitoring. Israel Deutsch, 78, the chief technology officer, is an engineer and worked for three decades in the defense industry followed by two decades as a development manager at various medical startups.

A changed business model

After a year of work had produced an initial product that worked, the four met Sami Sagol, founder of the Keter plastics company, who is now involved in investing in biotechnology and medical innovation. He is also the person for whom the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, which Efrati heads, is named.

Sami Sagol, founder of the Keter plastics company, is now involved in investing in biotechnology and medical innovation, including in Brain.spaceCredit: Tomer Applebaum

“Sami was enthusiastic about what we showed him and led us to change our business model,” Levy said. “Instead of thinking of the product as a medical device, today, we view ourselves as a data company.”

Based on this understanding, the company raised its first money from Sagol.

“With his support, we developed a product that allows researchers, students, hospitals or any other industry to access data on someone’s mental state in real time, data that haven’t been accessible to date,” Levy said.

“For instance, in the defense field, we can enable fighter pilots’ mental condition to be monitored in real time, or in the sports world, we’ll enable trainers to understand which of their players are under mental stress and which players are in good mental shape,” he continued. “All that’s needed is for the pilot or player to put on the helmet for a few minutes, and their data will appear on the platform we developed.”

The financial model the company developed involves a fixed monthly fee for use and maintenance of the helmet and access to the system (SaaS). Essentially, it’s a monthly subscription.

Brain.space doesn’t yet have any paying customers, but it’s conducting a pilot with several universities and defense organizations, including Shamir Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University. The company said it will start selling to customers next year.

The NASA test

The company, which has operated under the radar until now, has raised $8 million in two financing rounds. The second took place in the latter half of 2021 and raised $5 million. The leading investor was Mangrove Capital Partners, which has previously invested in companies like Wix and WalkMe.

Brain.space also said it is in the final stages of getting FDA approval through the fast-track 510(k) process.

The company decided that it needs public exposure now because of a week-long experiment slated to begin on April 5 as part of the AX-1 Axiom Space mission and the Ramon Foundation’s Rakia project, in which Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe is involved. The experiment will use Brain.space’s technology in a first-of-its-kind effort to measure brain activity in space.

The experiment, they say, may lead to a few interesting discoveries. “First of all, there are two big riddles in the universe, the brain and space, so the ability to combine them and understand what happens in the brain when it’s in space is amazing,” Levy said. “An astronaut is monitored ceaselessly for every physical measurement except brain activity. We know today that there’s a change in brain activity, but we don’t know what the change is. That’s what the experiment will try to find out.”

The experiment has effectively already started. In the first stage, the astronauts carried out a series of tasks while their brains were being monitored through Brain.space’s technology. Once in space, they will repeat those tasks with identical monitoring to try to discern any differences in brain function between earth and space. At the same time, a similar experiment will be conducted on a group of Israeli students as a control.

But for the company, this isn’t just an experiment. “To obtain approval to carry out the experiment, we had to go through a series of tough NSA committees,” Levy said. “From our standpoint, the next step is to prove to NASA that it needs the technology we developed so it will become a customer.”

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