In a windowless laboratory, a mouse under buzzing white lights scrabbles at the floor of its cage. It seems to be unfazed by the miniature camera perched on its head, attached to a trailing wire.
The experiment was conducted in the Silicon Valley labs of Inscopix Inc., a startup tracking the brain activity of animals going about their daily lives, with the hopes of pulling useful insights from the data. The goal is to sell the brain microscopes to researchers and Big Pharma, aiding research into which neurons are responsible for hunger, decision making, learning, fear or medical disorders.
Inscopix is the subject of the latest episode of Ventures, a Bloomberg Technology video series about startups. The company’s microscope fills a gap in current research tools, between large-scale imaging machines, like an MRI, and electrodes that can only record a single neuron at a time. The ability to better understand how regions of the brain behave, and to compare healthy to diseased cells, could help researchers devise treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other diseases. Videos captured by the cameras have allowed scientists to watch patterns of brain signals that match songbirds’ trilling and watch the buildup of electrical activity preceding an epileptic seizure.
The startup said it has raised $10 million in funding and has won business from drugmakers including Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, as well as 200 academic labs. The cost of the kit, at between $60,000 and $100,000, may be prohibitive for smaller laboratories.
Kunal Ghosh, Inscopix’s co-founder and chief executive officer, hopes to quickly expand beyond mouse and bird brains. “It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say if we can read data from the human brain—which is something that we’re already working towards today—we can take that technology and hopefully use it for good purposes to enhance certain brain functions," he said.