2019 Finalist: ASTech Awards
Novel Brain Surgery Developments through Neuromodulation
The field of neuromodulation has the potential to treat a broad range of psychiatric, neurological and sensory conditions. Neuraura Biotech Inc. is revolutionizing the industry through advanced neuro sensor technology, currently in epilepsy surgery. Neuraura’s technology is outperforming legacy sensors because it is 350x smaller, provides 20x greater spatial resolution and generates a 3x improved signal-to-noise ratio. We spoke with Co-Founders Pierre Wijdenes, CEO and Colin Dalton, CTO.
What problem or opportunity did you identify and seek to address?
Pierre: We believe the future is neuromodulation and brain-machine interfacing. It’s the fastest growing field in medical devices. The big question has always been, “How do you properly record and safely stimulate the brain?”. We believe that the perfect niche market to solve this problem is epilepsy surgery.
We developed micro sensors at Colin’s facility that allow us to record activity from the brain at a higher resolution than anyone else. These sensors allow us to map the brain properly to provide the right diagnostic and the right stimulation.
Colin: For a third of epilepsy patients, the drugs don’t work and part of the brain has to be removed. In epileptic neurosurgery, the neurosurgeon has to map the brain. With our technology, we can give the surgeon better definition and better data, which ensures improved recovery and better outcomes for the patients. This is the beginning of where we’re going with neuromodulation.
Pierre: People have been using the same sensors for 20 or 30 years; there hasn’t been much innovation. People are trying to develop new software and hardware to treat the data, but when you put garbage in, you get garbage out. This is exactly what we change.
With our sensors, we push the limits of what is possible with brain surgery. We know it’s an unmet need. Only 10 per cent of people in North America who need the surgery receive the procedure. There’s a huge market to dive into it and there are a lot of patients who will benefit from this technology.
What has been the impact?
Colin: One of the advantages of our technology is it’s adapted from the semiconductor industry, which allows it to be scaled up or miniaturized. We get benefits in the speed of development.
Pierre: We’re seeing better and faster diagnosis and the ability to really understand which part of the brain needs to be removed. Right now, about 60 per cent of the patients who receive epileptic neurosurgery are going to develop seizures again within the next three years. This is potentially because the exact part of the brain was not removed. If the surgeons had this technology, we could help them locate the precise areas for removal.
Our technology maps the brain in a way to (understand) exactly where to stimulate with the implanted device to leave the brain intact. This allows for personalized treatment of the patient.
How has being in Alberta helped you find success?
Colin: None of the technology we’ve developed would have happened without being in Alberta. We have a micro nanofabrication facility at the University of Calgary, funded through the Alberta government and the University of Calgary.
When we conduct research, we can innovate on a day-to-day basis as opposed to sending developments off to the US and waiting for results to come back. Having the ability to do it directly here in Alberta, along with the connection to the Cumming School of Medicine and access to the neurosurgeons, was huge. Being here was the right time and the right place.
Pierre: On the entrepreneurial and business side, it started at the University of Calgary through the Hunter Centre. I was able to attend classes that are part of the MBA program, discovering what entrepreneurship was really about. Then I was figuring out that as a PhD student I can have an impact with my technology and I can bring it to the field. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but this program helped us figure it out.
Who have been your major supporters?
Pierre: The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) in Calgary has been transformative for us both. When we think about the ecosystem, the community, the investors we met, the different granting agencies we connected to, such as Alberta Innovates and TECTERRA, we wouldn’t be where we are now without that support.
Colin: I can’t stress enough the value of CDL and the links and networking it enabled. CDL brings people to Alberta to foster community and build connections. The support we’ve had there was literally transformational. It’s the reason Neuraura exists.
What are the plans for the future?
Pierre: Our initial work has been with epileptic neurosurgery patients, but the excitement is around where it’s going to go with neurostimulation to help with other medical disorders. There are many applications where this technology can go. There’s a lot of neuromodulation research being done and all those researchers getting published in the mainstream media are treating epileptic neurosurgery patients using old technology. So there is lots of opportunity.
The future is very bright because we have much better technology and much better data. The preliminary work that’s being done is laying the foundation for where our technology will move forward in the future.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
Colin: I was like, “Woo hoo!” I’ve been in the technology field in Alberta for over 15 years. I know these are the Oscars of Alberta science and technology. I am amazed and very thankful that we were nominated.
Pierre: When I was doing my PhD, I remember getting the ASTech Awards newsletter and I was amazed at the work being recognized. Now that we’re nominated, we can see the evolution and being a finalist is an honour.