Brain scan entrepreneurs

The New York Times has an article on the burgeoning business of commercial fMRI brain scan services – that offer to do everything from detecting lies to managing pain.

fMRI is a type of scan that can map levels of oxygen-rich blood across the brain. As brain areas need more oxygen the harder they work, fMRI can produce a map of inferred activity.

fMRI is a relatively new technology. Although its now the most popular technique for tracking brain function, it only became widespread in the mid to late-1990s.

We’ve just got to the stage where commercial companies are beginning to sell fMRI-based services.

So far, the offerings are almost entirely based on experimental results that most scientists find interesting but preliminary, and to different degrees, the glitz of neuroscience, and impressive but scientifically meaningless publicity stunts.

This isn’t really a problem with the technology itself. It’s common for companies to sell their product while its still in development, but its worth bearing in mind when you hear the more outrageous claims for what it can do.

You might think that this business is so new and specialised as to be a target for easy-money investors, but it’s surprisingly cut-throat.

For example, VSM MedTech, makers of MEG brain scanners, seem to be running as a support only company after a serious nose dive.

However, this still leaves two other companies who can currently manufacture and install these multi-million pound devices.

The NYT article surveys the sorts of commercial brain scan services currently being offered, and has a critical commentary on some of the companies’ claims.

Link to NYT article ‘Mind Over Matter, With a Machine‚Äôs Help’ (via BB).

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