Neuroscience Startup Aims to Back-up your Brain

Briony O’Neill -

It might sound like the plot for a dystopian science fiction movie but uploading your consciousness to a computer could become a reality in the not too distant future. The US-based neuroscience startup, Nectome, aims to preserve the brain well enough to keep all its memories intact. This ground breaking application could potentially take wireless connectivity to a whole other level. Before you get too excited, there is a rather morbid obstacle that you’ll have to circumnavigate, one that is impossible to avoid: death. It is only possible to connect your consciousness to a computer and digitize your brain once you are dead.

Nectome’s ambitious mission is to preserve people’s brains sufficiently so that all their memories are retained. This means memories of your first kiss to that time you won the jackpot online, or the feeling of the warm summer sun on your skin will all be mapped out and stored by a computer. Currently, there is no guarantee that this will work and to give it a go means certain death. With that in mind, we’ve gathered important information on a few pressing questions about this startup’s grand plans so you can decide whether it’s ‘100% fatality’ clause is worth an investment.

How Will It Work?

The team at Nectome, led by co-founders Michael McCanna and Robert McIntyre, are developing a way to preserve the brain in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. This process is known as vitrifixation and is also referred to as Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation. It was this very process that saw Nectome win the Brain Preservation Foundation’s Small Mammal prize for successfully preserving an entire rabbit connectome, which resulted in the complete map of every synaptic structure in the brain. One can think of connectomes as maps to your memories. They consist of all the synaptic connections between neurons in your brain.

Hard at work, the startup is currently trying to scale their preservation process to larger brains. In February of this year, Nectome carried out the vitrifixation process on the corpse of an elderly woman, making it the first demonstration of its kind on the human brain.

How Close Are We To Uploading Our Brains?

Well, according to Nectome, not that close. While the startup has achieved success in preserving connectomes in animal brains, its recent foray into applying the vitrifixation process to the human brain has been done exclusively in a research context. Although this is a bold first step towards the development of an established memory preservation protocol, there is still ways to go before digitising the brain becomes a feasible possibility.

Nectome claims that backing-up your memories from your preserved brain to recreate your mind could be achieved within the century. The key, they believe lies in fully exploring the critical role that the connectome plays in memory storage. This, along with the continued development and refinement of brain banking techniques, as well as robust preservation protocols could usher in a new era of neuroscience.

How Is It Being Funded?

Like all startups, Nectome is heavily reliant on investors and external funding to continue its efforts in successfully preserving the brain, as well as the many different kinds of biomolecules related to memory and the mind. It is backed by the high profile funder, Y Combinator. This Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator has invested $120,000 and has previously invested in notable startups such as Reddit, DropBox and Airbnb. Nectome has also been awarded a $960,000 federal grant from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health for “whole-brain nanoscale preservation and imaging” so backing up your brain may become a reality sooner than you think.

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