The process of diagnosing and tracking the progression of neurological disorders is often long and imprecise, involving surveys, hospital visits, and in-person observations that experts must interpret on the fly. NeuraLight claims it’s built in a better way, which only uses a regular webcam and could have a huge effect on how these conditions are treated. The company just got $25 million to build the team and get the method into the hands of doctors.
Lack of standardization is a huge problem in the diagnosis and monitoring of neurological disorders: because they are so complex and often slow to develop, it is extremely difficult for a single approach to catch something like the disease of Alzheimer’s at an early stage.
In fact, misdiagnosis is believed to be commonplace in the field, not because of a lack of rigor on the part of caregivers, but simply because of the level of variability in the process. Now imagine if you had a cohort of people diagnosed with a disorder, and up to a quarter of them may not have it, how can you be sure that any treatment you test is effective? This data trust crisis needs objective metrics to mitigate, and that’s what Austin and Tel Aviv-based NeuraLight is building.
CEO Micha Breakstone, after selling his former company Chorus for $575 million, met his co-founder Eddie Ben-Ami and was fascinated by the possibilities of his research.
“It’s a bit crazy, but there are practically no objective markers for neurological disorders. You can’t develop drugs for diseases you can’t measure,” he said. “He had developed this technology that could glean these micro-parameters from the eye, indicating cognitive load.”
This, along with other eye movements and measurements, have been linked to neurological disorders for years in numerous publications. But it has not been a useful technique for measuring disease progression because it uses specialized equipment and expert analysis.
NeuraLight uses a standard standard webcam and applies modern image analysis techniques “to extract these signals, let’s call them sub-pixels or sub-millimeters, things that are not in a single image. We’ve found that we’re as accurate, if not more so, than a professional eye tracker that costs tens of thousands of dollars,” Breakstone said. (“Which is crazy,” he added.)
Now, this could be used in clinical settings in the future, for home neurological testing, but that’s something that may have to wait for FDA approval and further testing. Fortunately, this can be useful even before making serious medical claims, because the analysis the company does on eye imaging can be applied retrospectively to other data, such as clinical trials from the past. And it’s something the drug companies will gladly pay for.
“We’re taking a page from Flatiron here; we actually label the data,” Breakstone explained. “For example, if we’re looking at a cohort of a thousand people with Parkinson’s disease, and we know that 250 don’t have it…if all we did was go in and label the patients we suspect may not have it, we can re-analyze the data without it being considered hacking or p-hacking, as it is new data.You can greatly increase the chances of success without make any regulated claims.”
There has been a lot of work in this area, as eye movements have long been known to be important indicators of brain health. But a more detailed analysis could yield new results from existing studies or lead to faster or better detection of indicators in clinical situations.
As before, there are no diagnostic or treatment claims here, but as an unprecedented objective measure of neurological disease, NeuraLight’s measurements could still help doctors diagnose and monitor these conditions.
Tracking in particular is a major issue. It’s hard enough to get someone into the hospital for testing these days, and even more so if it’s someone with a worsening neurological condition. If indicators of treatment progress or success were visible via the user’s home webcam, as Breakstone envisions, “instead of coming to see someone once a quarter—at best—you can do our test twice a week. On any standard Zoom call, you will be able to get a full neurological assessment, simply by participating in the call – without any stimuli, just passively.
It’s still a long way off, but they’ve already tested hundreds of healthy volunteers for a control group and are about to start studies to create an agent to detect ALS. For rapid variants of this disorder (and others), it is extremely helpful for results if you detect and begin treatment earlier, even a few months.
Trials and partnerships are also underway to create models to identify the signs of Parkinson’s disease, MS and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the subtype.
The company raised $5.5 million last October and now has a $25 million seed round, led by Koch Disruptive Technologies, with participation from Breyer Capital, Samsung NEXT, VSC Ventures, Chris Mansi, David Golan and Lily Sarafan.
The money will help strengthen the team, which Breakstone has already declared to be world-class, and continue to develop its infrastructure and product.
“Our end goal is to set a new standard for neurological disorders, for progression, monitoring and diagnosis, but to start with the pharmaceutical industry as a decision-making tool,” he said. “We are on an urgent mission to make a real impact – this is not academic.”