September 4, 2019

Calgary startup aims to unlock brain medicine with next-generation microsensors

Neuraura Biotech’s vision is big and bold—to unlock the brain. The Calgary-based company has developed a novel microsensor that monitors brain activity better than ever before. The result could change the way technology is used to improve the lives of people suffering from neurological, psychiatric and sensory conditions.

Neuraura’s sensors are comprised of tiny, three-dimensional electrodes. At one-fifth the width of a human hair, the wireless devices can be inserted into the brain with minimal impact. Not only that, they’re significantly more precise for electrically recording and stimulating the brain, offering a new breakthrough in the effort to diagnose and treat brain conditions.

“Think of our technology as like a pacemaker for the brain,” says Pierre Wijdenes, Neuraura’s co-founder and CEO.

Starting seven years ago, Wijdenes developed the technology during work for his PhD in biomedical engineering at the University of Calgary. Frustrated at the quality of readings he was getting from research on tissue slices, he worked with Colin Dalton, director of the Microsystems Hub and assistant professor at the university’s Schulich School of Engineering, to come up with a better sensor. Excited about the technology’s potential, they formed Neuraura in 2017.

Since then, their startup has grown quickly. Neuraura has tripled angel financing with government support. It’s established collaborations with researchers at different institutions including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Melbourne. Now the company is aiming to commercialize its first clinical application in 2021, with a brain monitoring system for epilepsy surgery.

“Our initial application is a technology platform for epilepsy surgery that will improve patient experience, enhance the information available to clinicians, minimize surgical risk and reduce the cost of patient care,” Wijdenes says.

Based on clinical test results, the company plans to launch the system in the United States, eventually developing the technology to address a broad range of brain-related conditions.

In the meantime, Neuraura continues to build its profile with researchers and investors. Earlier this year it finished first in a pitch competition at Alberta Innovates’ Inventures conference and won at the Fundica Roadshow for Canadian tech startups.

According to Claire Dixon, Neuraura’s chief operating officer, Alberta Innovates has been a key supporter from the start. Funding and advice from the agency have facilitated technology development. Last December Neuraura took part in an Alberta Innovates-funded matchmaking trip to China. The company is now looking at Asia as a potential market and will return to Australia and Singapore this November as part of a federal government trade mission.

Dixon says: “Our team feels blessed to have benefitted from this support. It’s helped us to leverage financing. In addition, Alberta Innovates has been very generous in providing insights and opening networks for us.”

Photo above: Colin Dalton (left) and Pierre Wijdenes