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Startup Story

Medtech startup Neurescence sheds light on brain diseases

At Work - Google

How Accelerator alumni uses Google tech to better understand brain activity

Physicist Yasaman Soudagar always saw the world through data: in her experience, everything could be measured, tracked, reviewed, and analyzed. But when a family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she realized how little is known about the brain and, more specifically, diseases of the brain. Now she’s devoted her time and energy to her company, Neurescence, to provide more visibility into brain activity and the underlying causes of brain disease.

A key issue concerning brain diseases, Yasaman discovered, is that the underlying causes are not fully understood. “When a patient experiences a cardiac anomaly, there are blood markers, various imaging modalities, and functional tests to narrow in on the cause and deploy interventions,” explains Yasaman. “Brain diseases don't have the full equivalent yet. A significant gap remains in neuron-level diagnostics and currently, treatment for complex, degenerative brain diseases rely on individual physician interpretation of the data.”

Frustrated that existing technologies could not provide enough direct and granular data to clarify how different brain areas communicate, Yasaman decided to leverage her Ph.D. in experimental quantum optics to create a technology that images multiple brain areas in order to track the activities of neurons and ultimately better understand how different brain areas signal to each other. Her startup, Neurescence, is now the leading provider of multi-region functional imaging of neuronal activity. Their unique technology images multiple areas of the brain, showing neuron activity as a subject moves around and behaves, enabling an understanding of how different brain areas signal to each other. The team also created and commercialized Quartet — a miniature microscope for simultaneous, multi-region functional imaging of neuronal circuits.

In 2018, Yasaman met her co-founder, Sepideh Hashemi, whose direct experience in the medical device sector included translating products from concept to launch. Sepideh was impressed with Yasaman's drive to have an impact on neuro disorders and her focus on characterizing neuronal circuit interactions—a population of neurons that carry out a specific function when activated. She agreed to help Neurescence advance its product platform toward clinical use. “Innovation happens where expertise intersects.” says Sepideh, “The Neurescence team combines deep knowledge of neuroscience, neurosurgery, optical physics, machine learning and regulated medical device development.”

The team knew that a sophisticated neural network—a computer system modeled on the human brain and nervous system—would be what ultimately helped them achieve their goal of understanding neuronal long-range circuitries in the central nervous system. However, creating training data and developing, testing, and deploying the desired machine learning model required considerable resources, not to mention the amount of time it would take to discover and overcome the inevitable roadblocks in their methodologies. So in April 2021, Yasaman and Sepideh decided to enroll in Google for Startups Accelerator: Canada to help Neurescence level-up its technology prowess and take its preclinical company to a highly-scalable clinical business.

“Our advisor, Dr. Harold Wondlinger, is intimately familiar with our trajectory and guided us to the Google for Startups Accelerator due to his connection to ProteinQure, a past-program alumni,” said Yasaman “We recognized the great fit for Neurescence as we were looking to get technical support for enhanced review of optical images using machine learning, which is the most efficient, mathematical way to extract patterns from any type of data.”

Leveraging the guidance of mentors Justin Pedro and Barry Zuidgeest as well as Accelerator program leads Ashley Francisco and Iran Karimian, the team gained access to resources that allowed them to realize their goals in a span of just a few weeks instead of the year they had initially projected. One crucial component in helping the team reach project milestones was Google Auto ML, which reduces data preparation to a minimum. By using Google AutoML and transferring their project to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), the Neurescence team trained, tested, evaluated, and deployed three different models with preliminary data. The adoption of GCP also facilitated a partnership with RewireNeuro, a biomedical imaging company providing AI automated image analysis, strengthening Neurescene’s offering to the preclinical market and making them the go-to company for preclinical brain imaging. The team has estimated that this partnered offering will lead to a 36% revenue increase for Neurescence.

Yasaman also saw benefits from the peer-to-peer connections and learning that the Google for Startups Accelerator provided. “The Google for Startups Accelerator felt like a community, even in the middle of the pandemic with everyone on Google Meet,” says Yasaman. “Google program leads Ashley (Francisco) and Iran (Karimian) were authentic and succeeded at creating a community where people were inspired by each other and got to know each other.”

Since graduating from Google for Startups Accelerator: Canada, and with significant input from co-founder, Dr. Taufik Valiante, the Neurescence team has focused on a particular neurological disease that affects 50 million people globally: epilepsy. 50% of epilepsy patients do not respond to medication, and many need to undergo surgery. However, surgical options—which can be tricky and invasive—are only 60-80% effective. Yasaman and her team aspire to connect the missing links within both the therapeutic and diagnostic areas of neurological disorders: “Our technology will help fulfill the need of neuroscientists to understand the brain and discover better assessment and novel therapies for neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about Neurescence