This start-up raised $ 30 million to create brain maps to help surgeries and therapies
When Michael Sughrue was studying medicine in the early 2000s, surgeons didn’t have a complete picture of the brain. While MRI and CT scans could detect structural abnormalities, they couldn’t tell how brain cells, called neurons, were connected or how they communicated. “I didn’t want to hurt people when we had brain surgery. I couldn’t see where the really important things were in the brain, ”says Sughrue. This is what motivated him to co-found Omniscient Neurotechnology with Stéphane Doyen. Their startup creates neural brain maps, which can help with decision-making related to surgeries and therapies.
The Australia-based startup, which has U.S. offices in Wilmington, Delaware, announced a $ 30 million Series B funding on July 19, 2021 led by several Australian billionaires valuing the three-year company at $ 295 million.
With around 86 billion neurons linked together in complicated electrical circuits, the brain is the most complex human organ. Brain maps can help doctors spot abnormal connections, misfires of neurons in patients with brain tumors, neurodegenerative diseases, anxiety and depression, says Sughrue, 42. It also helps to map human emotions and intellect.
Once doctors identify a cluster of failed neurons across the maps, they can use brain stimulation therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation with greater precision, Sughrue adds. that, ”he said.
The technology to map neural connections in the brain, also known as a connectome, was developed by applying machine learning algorithms to tens of thousands of MRI scans. “It’s like Google Maps of the brain,” says Stephen Scheeler, CEO of Omniscient, who was previously CEO of Facebook for Australia and New Zealand.
One of Omniscient’s products called Quicktome, which provides brain maps and visualizations of connections, received FDA approval in the United States in September 2020. Michael McDermott, neurosurgeon at the Miami Neuroscience Institute, who also Framed Sughrue during her residency, is delighted to use the new technology. “I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. This is a big step forward in our understanding of the functions and interconnections of the human brain, ”says McDermott. His center will soon begin using Omniscient technology for its patients who may need brain surgeries. “We’re not going to look at the white spots on MRI scans anymore. We will also be looking at the relationships of all bundles and bundles of fibers (neurons), ”he added.
Omniscient isn’t the first to develop brain maps, but he may be the first to commercialize its use. The National Institutes of Health supported the Human Connectome Project, launched in 2009, to map the human brain. Based on project data, two universities built a custom “Connectome” scanner with MRI technology that can visualize brain networks in 10 times greater detail than conventional scanners, according to a 2016 NIH press release. .
The founders of Omniscient, however, want to be the leaders in the field. “In the next 20 to 30 years, there will be an operating system for brain data. There are going to be app stores for brain apps. We want to be the Google or App Store for brain data, ”Scheeler adds.
Will Vicar, chief investment officer of Caledonia Investments, has invested nearly $ 14 million, half of it in the last round, and says his investment is philanthropic. Vicar, who has known Sughrue since 2006, says the product could go global very quickly, given how desperately needed it was.
The new funds will go to new research and sales of existing products that have received FDA approval. “We see it becoming a gold standard for the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases related to the brain,” says Sughrue.