Forbes India – Technology: Laina Emmanuel, Rimjhim Agrawal: Creating a Google Map of the Brain

Rimjhim Agrawal (left) is CTO and Laina Emmanuel is CEO of their deep tech startup BrainSightAI
Image: Hemant Mishra for Forbes India

Laina Emmanuel and Rimjhim Agrawal are building a neuroinformatics platform that could provide brain surgeons and psychiatrists with vital information about their patients. the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to mental health issues. Laina Emmanuel is a technologist who has worked with large tech companies as well as governments on the use of technology in healthcare.

An entrepreneurship program within the startup accelerator and British investment firm Entrepreneur First brought them together, and their deep tech startup BrainSightAI was born, which is developing a platform for neuroinformatics. BrainSightAI’s software helps neurosurgeons be better prepared and psychiatrists get a better idea of ​​what’s going on in their patients’ heads.

The neuroinformatics platform is called VoxelBox, and “it allows you to create something like a Google map of the brain,” says Emmanuel, who is CEO. The seed of the business was in a research paper Agrawal published on the study of schizophrenia using scans of the brain with a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging.

While there is a plethora of brain signals that they study, “an important area of ​​interest is local brain activity and how one part of the brain communicates with another part, called functional connectivity,” says Agrawal, the technical director.

A government grant also helped expand their dementia study, but multiple requests from neurosurgeons – who wanted to better examine their patients’ specific brain patterns before surgeries – gave the entrepreneurial duo a more immediate opportunity to use VoxelBox.

At the heart of the platform are four technologies that come together. The first is about signal processing, which examines how the 86 billion neurons within the human brain network communicate and the patterns that emerge. Next is AI software applied to the models to match them to known indicators of various diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, for example. The third part involves translating the results of the complex calculations performed by the AI ​​software into a visual representation that surgeons can recognize and interpret. And finally, the future is for 3D simulation using this math to try to predict how a patient will respond to a particular therapy.

In the case of psychiatry, BrainSight has applied its technology to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This is where the technology begins to push the boundaries, with AI software showing ‘markers’ that could indicate distorted connections between different parts of the brain, which is a first step towards the day when those disconnections can. be repaired.

With Emmanuel’s work at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, an international development organization focused on healthcare, and Agrawal’s research on ML applications in mental health at Nimhans, “we felt that they were presented as a very strong founding team with complementary skills and addressed an unmet need, ”said Akshat Shah, venture capitalist and member of the Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs investment committee. “However, it was their ‘customer first’ mindset that convinced us to take the plunge and support their vision. ”

Entrepreneur First launched BrainSight with a seed check of $ 55,000, while Stanford Angels and investors, including Redstart Labs and IKP, added $ 750,000 in seed capital.

Given the complexity and limitations of current imaging technologies, the human brain continues to be an underexplored organ, Shah points out. “We believe that BrainSight, using a multimodal approach, is building a truly comprehensive connected brain model that will allow multiple disciplines – development of precision therapies, early clinical diagnoses and better surgical procedures – to take the plunge,” he said. he declares. said.

Emmanuel gives an example. So far, AI applied to mental health has focused on how people react to external factors and triggers. BrainSight’s technology also takes into account what might be going on inside the brain, to try to get a more complete understanding of what is going on with someone with a mental health problem.

Likewise in neurosurgery, much of the application of AI so far has focused on structural aspects of the brain, such as better delineation of a tumor, for example. “Today we are one of the few companies in the world to apply AI to functional aspects,” says Emmanuel.

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(This story appears in the December 3, 2021 issue of Forbes India. You can purchase our tablet version at To visit our archives, click here.)

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