Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Key to Innovation in Neurotechnology

Successful collaboration across all sectors and disciplines in research and education requires a champion. ORION is a champion of intersectoral collaboration – fostering partnerships and providing our community with the digital tools and expertise they need to make the world a better place. It was fitting, then, for ORION to support NeorotechHa’s first annual hackathon, which led to new discoveries in neurotechnology.

On the weekend of November 16th, NeurotechHa held its first annual hackathon at CoMotion on King. The weekend started on a positive note with our co-founders, Hector Domingo Orozco Perez and Saurabh Bhaskar Shaw, setting the stage for cross-disciplinary collaboration. As per the theme of the hackathon, bridging the gap between academia, industry and clinical practice, the dinner and get-together revealed participants with different educational backgrounds and varying technical expertise. From electrical engineers and computer programmers to biologists and neuroscientists, this range of diversity marked the beginning of an interdisciplinary partnership. This was not just in anticipation of this year’s theme, but also forecasted the conversations to follow, complementing the technical equipment available for the attendees.

Indeed, Dr. Graeme Moffat’s keynote – Chief Scientist and VP Regulatory at InteraXon – highlighted the applications of neurotechnology in the real world, including Elon Musk’s “Neuralink”. He spoke about electroencephalography (EEG), its technical components, and how related products may be used in academic research and industry. InteraXon produces such technology, including Muse, an immersive meditation device that provides real-time feedback on your mental activity, heart rate, breathing and body movements. Dr. Moffat’s talk emphasized the complementary nature of academia and industry, where research using Muse also guides further product development.

A few of our product teams used Muse creatively in their project proposals, leveraging its potential for academic, clinical and industrial applications. The first-place project winners, Neo, integrated the EEG component, measured using Muse, with an open-source Google Home box through their application program interface. This Google Assist device mirrors the contemporary industrial trend of linking brain waves with external devices in order to personalize technology. The second-place project winners, The Alpha Kit, created a simple, plug-and-play solution for every non-tech-savvy clinician and researcher – a convenient neurofeedback device with a user-oriented instruction manual. Finally, the third-place winners, MACtion Potential, developed an algorithm to generate EEG motor imagery that helped power a robotic arm, improving prosthetics. Complementary team members worked on feasible solutions while learning new skills from each other.

One of the other highlights of the weekend, a scintillating panel discussion, further reflected this year’s theme, providing an apropos context for the projects. It included researchers’ Drs Sue Becket and Kiret Dhindsa, clinician Dr. Ayse Unsal, engineer Dr. Graeme Moffat, resident psychiatrist Jordon Charlebois, and the founder of NeurotechX, Yannick Roy. The dialogue divulged barriers to neurotechnology and the role of NeurotechHa in addressing them. In particular, the conversation explored potential collaborations and practical limitations to access this technology, as well as ways to study them. This emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary work, and the involved diversity, in advancing neurotechnology. Certainly, all of the panelists started off in academia, gaining translational expertise as trainees, before branching out to industry, clinical practice, or academic practice.

The hackathon was a success in promoting progress, creativity, and innovation thanks to the support of our sponsors, including ORION. It’s just one more example demonstrating that it takes a village to empower innovation. In the burgeoning field of neuroscience and its combination with technology to enable solutions, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the necessary digital infrastructure is available as we invest in the future of Ontario.

To learn more about neurotech in brain health, check out the video of Dr. Graeme Moffat delivering the keynote address of the inaugural NeuroTechHA Hackathon 2018 titled “Neurotech in Brain Health: Opportunities in the Near Future.”