Dr Owen Phillips on incorporating imaging, genetics and demographics into a meaningful patient experience.
DISCLOSURE: Longevity.Technology (a brand of First Longevity Limited) has been contracted by the company mentioned in this article to support its current funding round. Qualifying investors can find out more via the Longevity.Technology investment portal.
BrainKey is pioneering an approach to brain longevity which quantifies brain health and aligns patients with personal treatment recommendations – a brain longevity data platform.
Longevity.Technology: We recently featured BrainKey as a Neurotech Trailblazer in our recent report and our curiosity was piqued. BrainKey’s platform applies AI to brain imaging and genetic data to provide actionable brain health insights. To find out more, we sat down with Owen Phillips, PhD, BrainKey’s founder and CEO.
Phillips is of the opinion that nothing is more important to longevity than brain health – especially as he’s witnessed the importance of brain longevity first-hand.
“My mother has had a treatable version of dementia that should have been identified and treated years ago,” he explains. “But it was missed, and her outcome is worse for it.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to the brain, many patients and even physicians often assume that there is no hope. This is wrong. There is treatment for many brain health problems. But often, identifying what’s going on inside a patient’s brain and then getting to the right treatment based on what is happening in their brain is not easy.”
Biology drives brain longevity
The key, according to Phillips, is biology.
Biology drives brain longevity, but biology of course, is complex, with a multitude of drivers, pathways and reactions pulling in myriad directions. And biology is even more complicated in the brain.
“Until now, it has been too difficult to understand an individual patient’s underlying brain biology,” explains Phillips. “This has forced the field to rely on external observable symptoms. This approach is error prone. The problem is that even in patients with very similar external symptoms, the underlying biology driving their symptoms can be different.
“We’re working hard to unlock the brain’s biology at a patient level. At BrainKey we are building AI tools that unlock each patient’s personal brain biology. We do this so that we can help patients get the right treatment to extend their brain longevity.”
Phillips has been able to use BrainKey’s AI tools to help his mother receive the right care, but he highlights dementia is a global problem, with one in three set to experience it.
“The risk grows as we get older and the global population is now older than it has ever been before,” he says. “For example, today, there are more people aged 65 than under the age of five. I founded BrainKey to create a powerful new tool that can fundamentally improve how we identify, treat, and manage brain longevity.”
A single view of brean health
BrainKey’s goal was to incorporate imaging, genetics and demographics into a single patient report – not an easy task and one that, as far as Phillips knows, hasn’t been done in a patient report before.
“There are a number of scientific publications incorporating imaging and genetics at a group level – I’ve published some myself – but when it comes to the individual level, not much is out there. That’s the big gap we are working hard to bridge,” he explains.
“The data we work with is complex, for example, imaging data contains thousands of 3D voxels and genetic data contains millions of data points – and these points don’t just exist in isolation to one another, there are complex relationships between them which also amplifies both the difficulty and opportunity for combining them.”
BrainKey has developed an AI approach it calls 3D multimodal fusion which helps its scientists to fuse the data and better understand the complexities.
In order to use brain data to deliver personalised recommendations, BrainKey begins by learning as much it can about the patient, comparing them with hundreds of thousands of other patients and amplifying the data with knowledge from peer-reviewed research about patients with similar profiles.
“The way I like to think about this is that we generate a unique “key” for each patient and then go fishing with it,” explains Phillips. “We cast the patient’s key into a data lake of patients and hook patients with similar profiles.”
Extending brain longevity
With those profiles, BrainKey then aims provide recommendations that will hopefully help a patient improve their brain longevity.
“It’s important to note that we work with clinics and physicians, and this report is meant as a support tool for them to help them better understand and care for their patients,” adds Phillips. “It’s not meant as a substitute for professional advice.”
As exciting as genetics is, it’s epigenetics – the tags and instructions added to your genome as a result of age, lifestyle and other influences – that is making waves in the longevity world. Customers can already bring their personalised genetics results to BrainKey to discover what their genes indicate about their brains, and the company is now in the process of integrating epigenetic tests into its platform.
Phillips says the BrainKey team are excited by this latest development as it builds on the company’s existing philosophy.
“If we take a step back and look at BrainKey’s goals it is clear that we want to understand as much as possible about a patient’s biology,” he explains. “Therefore, we want to incorporate as much data as possible so that the understanding grows. This is our underlying philosophy, and it’s why we are working to incorporate epigenetic tests and other data in the future.”
Growing our understanding of the brain
As mentioned earlier, BrainKey’s tech can play a valuable role in dementia diagnosis, supporting physicians to understand more about their patients’ brains in a number of ways.
The platform can can calculate the size of brain structures – such as the hippocampus – to see how they compare with a patient’s age and sex group. The hippocampus plays a significant role in memory; it is one of the first structures to have problems in dementia, and patients with dementia will often have a lower volume. BrainKey’s tech can do this for many other structures, such as the frontal lobe or cerebellum. It can calculate how much grey matter a person has at thousands of points along their cortex, and determine how old the patient’s biological brain age is compared with their chronological age.
As Phillips explains: “When we look at genetic data we can identify genes that are associated with these things. For example, we can pull genes out that are associated with hippocampal volume and create a measure of many genes (polygenetic) related to hippocampal volume.
“All this information adds to the physician’s picture of the patient’s underlying biology and can be useful in determining the health of their patient’s brain.”
However, for Dr Phillips and the BrainKey team, it is not enough to identify that a patient has a problem early.
“This was reinforced to me when we identified that my mom was having issues,” he says. “If you really want to help, you need to be able to tell the patient what they can do about it. The only way to do this without a painfully slow, error-prone process is if you can uncover the biology driving a patient’s problems.
“We’ve already made strides to do this – but we will work to get better and better.”
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