In this episode we discuss cutting edge brain hacks that sound like they are straight out of science fiction. Is it possible to use technology to rapidly change the structure of your brain? How does your brain actually learn? What is neuroplasticity and why is it so important? What are the key things you can do in your life to improve your brain health, memory and performance? We discuss all of this, along with a truly innovative technology that may be the key to unlocking super performance and massively accelerating your learning with our guest Dr. Daniel Chao.
Dr. Daniel Chao is a neurotech entrepreneur, specializing in devices that improve brain performance. He is the co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience. The company’s first product, Halo Sport, is the first neurostimulation system built specifically for athletes. Before Halo, Dr. Chao was the head of business development at NeuroPace, and a consultant at McKinsey & Company.
Your brain is a living computer chip that can create new circuits on demand
Your brain is “plastic”
The Nobel prize in the year 2000 went to the scientists who discovered neuroplasticity and the mechanisms behind it
Neuroplasticity is the process by which the brain learns
What actually happens in the brain when you are learning a new skill?
What happens to the brain and your neural connections when you learn a new skill?
Focused, repetitive, deliberate practice starts to build thicker and thicker and faster and faster neural connections
Repetition is the foundation of practice - you’re literally building physical connections in your brain that get stronger and stronger, the more you repeat that practice
The first time you learn something it’s like hacking a path through the jungle with a machete, then it’s like hiking through tough brush, then it’s a dirt road, then it becomes a paved road, then ultimately a highway and a superhighway
“Myleanation”- the cabling inside the brain
The brain is a plastic organ and it adapts to your needs
Repeated practice, learning, and thoughts literally change the physical structure of your brain
The brain is literally built on the principle of “use it or lose it” - if you aren’t using your brain, those parts atrophy and shrink
What are some strategies we can implement to optimize our brain and improve our brain health?
Sleep is one of the most important and obvious strategies for optimizing and improving brain health.
Focus decreases dramatically without proper sleep
Emotional control decreases dramatically without proper sleep
Strategies for better sleep
Consume less caffeine later in the day
Sleep in a cold room
Consume less alcohol in the evenings
Go to bed at a consistent time
Your day is “unequal”- you have better executive function in the first part of the day. Prioritize the most difficult and most important work in the early part of the day because you will be at a cognitive peak.
In terms of nootropics - on both the efficacy and safety side - the scientific waters are pretty muddy currently.
How can we take advantage of emerging brain science to “hack” the brain or “hack” learning?
What if you put electrodes into your brain to stimulate learning and memory?
Starting in our late teens, our ability to learn stats to decline - can we use cutting edge science to reverse that?
If you use electrical stimulation on your brain - it opens up about an hour of “hyper plasticity”- a super learning window
Within that hour window you need THOUGHTFUL TRAINING REPS and that learning will get ingrained more deeply in your brain
Slapping a “motor cortex neurostimulator” onto your brain - can be for any physical activity, playing violin, shooting a gun, playing video games, performing surgery etc
What happens to the additional “lift” in learning you get from neurostimulation? How “durable” is that learning?
What you learn in a state of hyper plasticity is as durable as any result you would have gained without any neurostimulation
The “road stays paved” even if you stop using the neurostimulation
Proper positioning - headphones straight up and down on the head
What happens if you have your neurostimulator on wrong? The worst thing that could happen, you don’t get the training benefit
The safety data for neurostimulation is incredibly robust- over 250,000 neurostimulation sessions its incredibly safe, there are over 4000 scientific articles about the safety of neurostimulation
Top of the head, right at your hairline - put the halo sport on your forehead - neurostimulate your prefrontal cortex could boost your performance on learning and retaining information - “dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex”
Homework: Sleep, exercise is GREAT for brain health.
Thank you so much for listening!
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Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
[Article] Summary of Ashwagandha - Research analysis led by Kamal Patel
[Profile] Crunchbase - Dan Chao
[Article] TechCrunch - “Halo’s second-gen brain stimulating headphones run $399” by Brian Heater
[Article] Forbes - “Daniel Chao's Halo Neuroscience Builds Headset To Train Your Brain” by Bruce Rogers
[Article] Men’s Health - “I Zapped My Brain With Halo Sport to See If It Would Boost My Athletic Performance” By Jeff Bercovici
[Article] Medgadget - “Halo Neuroscience’s Headset Zaps Your Brain To Train It” by Alice Ferng
[Article] Mobi Health News - “Halo Neuroscience collects $13M for its brain-stimulating headset” By Dave Muoio
[Article] PR Newswire - “Halo Neuroscience Pairs with USA Cycling”
[Podcast] Bulletproof Blog - Your Brain, But Better: Neurostimulation – Dr. Daniel Chao #488
[Podcast] Shrugged Collective - Electrical Brain Stimulation for Optimal Performance w/ Dr. Daniel Chao — Barbell Shrugged #349
[Podcast] Peak Performance - BC151. DR. DAN CHAO – CEO, HALO NEUROSCIENCE
[Podcast] Finding Mastery - #144 Dr. Daniel Chao, Halo Neuroscience CO-Founder
Startupfood - Daniel Chao - Enhancing Brain Performance
Ben Greenfield Fitness - How To Learn Faster, Jump Higher, Increase Explosiveness, Push Harder & Biohack Your Brain
Patrick Rishe - Daniel Chao Halo Neuroscience - 9/29/17
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:11] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than 3 million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss cutting edge brain hacks that sound like they’re straight out of science fiction. Is it possible to use technology to rapidly change the structure of your brain? How does your brain actually learn? What is neuroplasticity and why is it so important? What are the key things that you can do in your life to improve your brain health, memory and performance? We discuss all of these along with a truly innovative technology that maybe the key to unlocking super performance and massively accelerating your learning with our guest, Dr. Daniel Chao.
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In our previous episode, we welcomed legendary researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, to the Science of Success. We discussed vulnerability and learned that vulnerability is not weakness. It’s not oversharing and it’s not soft. We learned that even brave and courageous people are scared all the time. We discussed the incredible power of learning to get back up when you’re down. How you can stop caring what other people think about you and so much more in our previous in-depth interview. You absolutely can’t miss our last episode with Dr. Brené Brown. Be sure to check out our previous show.
Now, for our interview with Dan
[00:03:16] MB: Today, we have another fascinating guest on the show, Dr. Daniel Chao. Dan is a neurotech entrepreneur specializing in devices that improve brain performance. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience. The company’s first product, Halo Sport, is the first neurostimulation system built specifically for athletes. Before Halo, Dr. Chao was the head of business development at NeuroPace and a consultant at McKinsey & Company.
Dan, welcome to the Science of Success.
[00:03:44] DC: Hey! Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me.
[00:03:45] MB: Well, we’re really excited to have you on the show today and dig in to some of these fascinating topics, because I know you really deep into the science and the research and the neuroscience around a lot of these stuff.
To begin, let’s take a really simple approach to this. Tell me about what goes on in the brain when we’re learning something. How does the brain at a scientific level collect knowledge and actually change as we’re learning?
[00:04:11] DC: Yes. So there’s a process called neuroplasticity, and that borrows from the word plastic, and we know of something that’s plastic that is it’s just like a material that can change shapes, and that is our brain. It’s at a microscopic level, but our brain is a living computer chip. The computer chip that powers your cellphone and your laptop is a static computer chip. Ours is even more special. Ours has the ability to create new circuits on demand.
The idea of a plastic brain has existed for a while. In fact, the Nobel Prize in the year 2000 went out to a group of scientists that discovered neuroplasticity and the mechanisms behind it. So, neuroplasticity was such a significant scientific discovery for the world that the Nobel Prize went out to a group of scientists in the year 2000 to recognize this accomplishment.
So, neuroplasticity is the process by which brain retunes itself based on our needs. It’s the process by which our brain creates new neuronal connections, new synapses with other neurons and it’s also a destructive process. So, processes that aren’t relevant anymore, like processes that we’re not using anymore will be selectively destroyed to make room for neuronal connections that are actually useful to us. So, yeah, that’s learning in a nutshell, like the cellular and like neuroscience explanation for how learning and memory works.
[00:05:52] MB: So let’s break that down and explain it in simple terms for somebody who’s listening in the audience. If let’s say I want to learn how to play ping-pong, and I’m practicing my swing, practicing my swing. What’s actually going on every time I do that inside the circuitry of my brain?
[00:06:12] DC: Yeah, great example you picked. So, playing ping-pong? Let’s just pick on the motor system. So how do you move through a perfect ping-pong forehand, for example? What you do is you practice. You get a friend or they’ve got these serving machines now and you’ll be on the receiving end of multiple, multiple forehand shots, and you do this for hours and days on end. After a certain number of usually hundreds or several thousand reps, you start to get really good at that.
So, it’s this repetitive practice, this focused, deliberate, repetitive practice that is really a signal to the brain that says, “Hey! I’m really interested in this. I’m so interested in this that I’m going to do this again. Will you please pay attention?” and you do it again, and you do it again, and you do it again hundreds, thousands of times.
Over the course of all of that practice, all of those repetitions, what’s happening in your brain is it’s realizing that this is happening and it’s building new neuronal connections to create a circuit such that you don’t have to think about it as much anymore. You can just call on this program and acclimate the circuit to produce this certain kind of movement. In this case, it’s the ping-pong forehand, reproducibly with a high-degree of skill with you thinking about it less and less and less overtime.
Ideally, this movement is so perfected that you can call on this program during the most critical points of a competition. So that, it’s ping-pong. If you’re Steph Curry, it’s a three-pointer. If you’re Lindsey Von, it’s a downhill ski run. But that is the reason that we practice. That is the reason why repetition is the foundation of what we think of as practice.
You’re doing things over and over and over again to basically like almost hone a groove within our brain to create these neuronal circuits that it becomes second nature at some point. Like at some point, you don’t have to think about moving your elbow and your wrist at just the right moment. It just happens automatically. That automaticity, when you think about happens in the brain, is this creation of a new circuit that you can call on.
[00:08:40] MB: I think you used an analogy at one point of it almost being like a path through the forest that starts out as maybe a hiking trail, and then becomes a dirt road, and then becomes a paved road, etc.
[00:08:51] DC: Yeah, that’s right. So it’s a fun analogy that we like to use in the company. Yeah, the first time you do it, it might feel like you’ve got a machete and you’re carving a path through the Amazon. But overtime, the second and third time you go down this trail, you’re like, “Ah! I don’t need to use a machete anymore, but I do need to kind of stamp down some of the weeds.” So you do that.
Then after a hundred trips down this trail, it start to look like a proper trail and then a road, and then a two-lane highway, then a four-lane highway. Before you know it, it’s this highly-functioning, well-paved road, and that is what you’re doing. That is what all these practice and repetition does little by little.
In the case of a circuit in our brain, instead of a road, think about a synapse. There are small synapses, there are big synapses, big, robust synapses that are packed with neurotransmitters. When they fire, they create really robust action potentials on the other side. Then what that does is it creates more of those, like bigger, more of these synapses leads to stronger, tighter connections, which is effectively a new circuit. Then you could also think about the cabling.
I’m not sure if you guys in previous podcasts have talked about myelination. But myelination is like the rubber sheath around your – Like a USB cable. The more of this rubber sheath that you have, this protective layer, the faster that neuron is able to conduct that electrical impulse. So, all of these practice leads to more and more robust synapses, which leads to more insulation around the cabling so that the signal can travel faster.
You as someone who has practice a lot, the benefits that you feel is a more automatic movement. In the case of movement, we’re talking about ping-ping, is a more automatic movement. But, obviously, it’s not limited to ping-pong. It could be state capitals. It could be your multiplication table, things that we learned as a kid that are second nature to us.
[00:11:16] MB: So, we’ve definitely hinted at and kind of talked about the idea of myelination and this notion that when you think something a lot or think about something a lot, you’re starting to reinforce and build that circuitry inside your brain. But I think it’s worth really rehashing this fundamental thesis, which may seem almost strange or even science fiction as to some people that repetition and practice and any kind of thought pattern ultimately, fundamentally changes the physical structure of the brain overtime.
[00:11:51] DC: Yeah. Isn’t that crazy? Thank you for bringing that up and repeating that and giving me some more time to talk about that, because, yeah, the brain is a plastic organ. If that’s one thing that like a teaching point from this podcast, I would really love to just hone in, is that our brain is a plastic organ and it adapts to our needs. That is one of the most amazing things about our brain, is that it’s able to adapt to our needs.
There are amazing examples of this. Take for example someone who’s had an ACL tear and they’re unable to move their knee. If you looked inside the brain, things are happening during this period of disuse. So, during this period of disuse, so let’s say their successful surgery but the knee is immobilized, because it needs to rest itself. During this period of disuse, you will see atrophy that happens in the quads, for example. Because they’re not being used, the body is not feeling it like it should.
So you’ll see, you’ll visibly see those muscles getting smaller. Maybe this happening in your life with an elbow or a knee or something like that, or someone that you know. But is often just right there in front of you. But what people don’t realize is that same process is happening in our brain. Our brain is remodeling itself such that it’s saying, “Oh! Hey, this part of the knee, I guess you’re not using it. Hey, if you don’t mind, I’m the neighboring structure. I’m just going to mosey on in and start taking over this part of the brain.”
So there’s remodeling in the brain because of disuse atrophy. I’m not sure if this exactly what you want to talk about, but this is the use it or lose it principle. Neuroplasticity cuts both ways. It’s amazing that it can adapt to our needs for things that we practice a lot, and that’s awesome, and we should all take advantage of that. But it’s this use it or lose it principle too that if you’re not exercising certain parts of your brain, there are neighboring structures that are hungry for that territory, and it’ll move in and you – There is the opportunity for you to lose that circuit, right?
As lovely as it is to grain and rebuild these circuits, we have to think about the things that we don’t practice on a day-to-day basis, because we could lose that ability just as easily as we could acquire something new.
[00:14:31] MB: And that’s a great, really compelling argument in favor of constantly learning and constantly improving yourself, because if you’re not, then you’re not just staying static. You’re actively atrophying and shrinking and, in some cases, your capacity is diminishing.
[00:14:46] DC: Yeah. Neurologists have talked about recommendations for a healthy lifestyle, and this is all in anticipation of living a nice, long life. One of the downsides of living into our 80s is that Alzheimer’s could come into play.
Neurologists have talked about just living a full life, especially into retirement. There’s this propensity to just rest too much. But neurologists have talked about just getting out there, having conversations, watching movies, talking about it. Having engaging conversations with friends, maybe even going back to work just to keep the brain active. I think most of your listeners are younger. So, this is typically not a problem, because we live really full lives, but it really begs the question, like, “Is there even more that we can do?”
[00:15:39] MB: So, I want to expand this conversation a little bit and think about from a broader perspective, because you’re somebody who spent decades studying the neuroscience, the physical structure of the brain. How we can look at brain interventions to improve brain health to optimize the brain. What are some of the most effective strategies that you’ve found both over the short-term? Let’s say you want a specific performance boost in a specific time period and also over a longer term to optimize our brain and improve brain health.
[00:16:13] DC: Yeah. So let’s dive in. there are lots of different things. So, I think one thing that we all know is important and yet we do nothing about is sleep. Especially when you’re young, there’s the demands of the workday and also the demands of a really active social calendar will often put quality sleep in jeopardy. There’s a price to be paid here. You could only power through so much poor sleep in your life. At some point, it starts to have an impact.
It might feel innocent enough at first, but this problem can compound on itself such that folks can get themselves into trouble. Your ability to be attentive and focused the next day after a crappy night of sleep, it becomes really challenging. Emotional control is also much, much more difficult after a poor night of sleep. We can get into all kinds of trouble if we find ourselves unable to control our emotions. Anger might step in, making kind of rushed decisions. They come into play. If this is happening on just the wrong day, that could get us into a bunch of trouble.
So, not only is that sleep good for neuro health. It’s just good for like good cognitive decision making the next day. So, everybody should think about good sleep. Good sleep to me is about good habits. Again, none of these is hard. You just got to do it.
So, trying to go to bed at the same time every day. So stick into a schedule. Take it easy on caffeine after a certain time. That time is different for everybody. But for me, it’s early afternoon. No more caffeine for me after, say, 1 or 2PM.
Take it easy on the alcohol. A lot of people think that alcohol helps them sleep, and that might be true in terms of sleep induction. So it might help you go to sleep, but for the rest of the night, it’s actually worse. So, take it easy on the booze. Actually, I would recommend just not drinking for a while and just feeling the benefits of quality sleep and you might make different life decisions because of that.
Go to bed in a cold room. As we’re coming out of the winter here in the United States, the temperatures are going to be picking up to the extent that it can have a temperature controlled room that’s on the colder side and that will help you sleep. So, all of these things, it’s a lifestyle choice. Most people can do it. It’s really a question if you want to do it, if it’s a priority or not.
Yeah, in terms of other things that like I do, other people should do in terms of like brain health land cognitive health or brain performance, I think about my day as a day that is unequal. So, the first part of my day, I’m usually coming off a decent nice of sleep. I have better executive function in the first part of my day. Not just me. We all do.
So, you should prioritize work. That is the most difficult for the earliest part of the day, because you’re going to be at your – Like a cognitive peak during this time of the day. So, if you want to schedule like the hard meeting. Don’t save it for the end of the day. You are likely going to be more emotional during the end of the day. Emotional control is a limited resource, and we start with a lot early in the day. Over the course of the day, you’re withdrawing from this bank account. Such that by the end of the day, you’re more likely to lose emotional control and the potential for making a bad decision increases later in the day.
So, yeah, think of your day as being unequal. Because of that, prioritize the hard work early. If there’s more mindless work, shift that to the end of the day if it’s possible at all. Yeah, those are just a couple of things that I do. Because of my line of work, I get asked about nootropics a lot. Obviously, Halo is a neurostimulation company. So, I get asked about neurostimulation and, I’m sure, Matt, we’re going to dive into that very deeply.
I can just say a little bit about nootropics, and that I don’t use any. I think the science is pretty muddy in this area, and I’m waiting for better science to come through both on the efficacy and safety side. I’ve tried many myself just empirically, and I haven’t found any of those experiences to be particularly compelling. Maybe caffeine could be considered a nootropic, and I do drink coffee. But, again, I stop by the early afternoon. But I do like pretty religiously every morning, drink some coffee to just kind of kick start my brain. Anyway, it’s just one that proactively get that out just in case that was of interest to you, your listeners, Matt.
[00:21:40] MB: Yeah. That was definitely something I wanted to ask you about, and I’ve had a similar experience. I mean, I’ve definitely experimented with a number of nootropics and done a little bit of homework on them as well. Have you ever come across – And this is getting far field or sort of what the context of this interview is, which is out of curiosity. Have you ever experimented with or done any homework on Ashwagandha?
[00:22:01] DC: I have not. That’s a new one.
[00:22:03] MB: It’s an interesting supplement. It’s a long story, but there’s a really cool website, and we’ll throw this in the show notes for listeners who want to do a little more homework on this. You might actually appreciate as well, Dan, but it’s called examine.com, and they basically do all the scientific – They comb through all the science. You can look up anything, whether it’s fish oil, Ashwagandha, any nootropic you can basically think of, like creatine, as aspartame, anything that you ingest basically that’s a supplement of some kind or another. You can basically see, they’ll compile all of these studies around that particular supplement or whatever it might be and give you what all the sort of amalgamation of what all the study say. So they say, “Oh, it has a moderate effect of increasing cognition, a minor effect on decreasing anxiety, etc.” It’s really fascinating stuff if you want to do homework on particular supplements and things.
Anyway, all that to say, I actually discovered looking at some of their most recommended things, I discovered ashwagandha on there as a nootropic and kind of messed around with it and thought it was interesting and it’s one that’s been around for a long time. So maybe we’re looking up at some point. We’ll throw all that stuff on the show notes for people who want to do some homework on that.
Anyway, let’s come back to the focus of your work, because I think it’s really fascinating and it’s something that is quite frankly completely – I mean, I’ve sort of heard of it, but completely alien, completely new, different to me other than prior to experiencing Halo. Tell me about how you’re taking advantage of some of this emerging brain science to, for lack of a better term, hack the brain or hack the way that the brain learns and improve it.
[00:23:35] DC: Yeah. So, I like the way you said that. So, there’s been this incredible wealth of information born out of leading research labs around the world that help us understand the brain. I would argue that it happened in the 90s with the decade of the brain. This is George H. W. Bush and his big push and it really, I think, starting from there, it just really spawned this new era of scientific research, like really focused this brain, towards neuroscience.
Where does that put us today? There’s this – All of these money and scientific attention that has been put in the brain. What exist today that’s a product or a service that we could all take advantage of? Sure, there’re been some advances in pharmacology. So, new drugs that we can all benefit from that primarily act on the brain, and we should all be thankful for that.
Especially with drug therapy for the brain, I think there leads a lot to be desired, because any drug for the brain, there’s usually a really long list of side effects. At the end of the day, the amount of benefit that you derive from this drug is actually fairly limited. So, I’m not saying that they don’t work, because they do. Obviously, there’s a really big business around drugs for the brain. But if you compare drugs for the brain versus the rest of the body, it’s down there. It ranks really, really poorly.
So, I started really thinking about this of like we have this completely renewed and far deeper, more intricate understanding as to how the brain is wired and how the brain communicates with different parts of itself through neurons and synapses and this kind of thing. Yet there isn’t a technology out there that’s really taking advantage of all of these renewed understanding of the brain, and this goes back to when I was in medical school. I went to Stanford for medical school and also have a master’s in neuroscience form Stanford. To sitting in a classroom and thinking like, “Well, if not drugs,” and there are certain problems with drugs that I think are just like that we can’t surmount. The fact that you have to take it by mouth, and it goes through the gut, into the blood. Does a lap around the whole body unnecessarily before it gets to the brain and usually it’s only a small portion of the drug that makes it into the brain. Then, similarly, goes all over the brain unnecessarily when it only needs to go to a small part of the brain to do its business. So there’s just a lot of friendly fire when you’re thinking about drugs for the brain. It’s a lot to task of this little molecule to do what we want it to do.
So, if we all agree that drugs for the brain will always have some sort of downside to it, what would be a completely different approach? I was thinking in medical school that, “Well, what if that completely different approach is not a drug at all? What if it’s a physical device that involves an electrode, a circuit and a battery? What if we stimulated the brain with electricity in a way that’s far more modern than the old approach of like using ECT?”
ECT, back in the 60s, would come a long way. Remember what computers looked like in the 60s. Think about what computers look like today. We’ve come a long way. So, what if we built electrical interfaces for the brain and we used electrons as medicine? We’ve long known that the brain is an electrical organ. So, why not speak its language and use electricity to retune circuits to either treat disease or to augment the neuro capabilities in otherwise healthy people?
So, that idea in medical school has led to a really long career in developing neurostimulation devices for the brain. So you imagined in my bio, my first company, which is this company called NeuroPace. There, what we built was like a pacemaker for the brain. So, imagine electrodes getting surgically implanted in the brain with a small computer that gets implanted in the skull for which the electrodes are connected to.
Now, this little computer has its own battery and its own software and computer chip and what it does is it’s constantly listening to the brain’s electrical activity. If it sees an electrical signature pop up that’s suggestive of a seizure about to happen, it proactively delivers a small electrical impulse to the brain to then normalize the brain’s activity.
So, what started as an idea is now an FDA approved product helping people with seizure disorder, so people with epilepsy in a way that we couldn’t have even imagined. Drug therapy is historically been really poor for this group of very needy individuals, and we come along with this completely different approach, this idea that might sound crazy at first, but if we take a step back, it also might be – Think about it in an open-minded way. It could be far more rational than using any drug. Like the idea of using a physical device and the benefit of an electrode is like we could target precisely the part of the brain that we want to target while leaving the rest of the brain and the rest of the body alone.
Also, a beautiful thing about a circuit is that you can turn it on and off whenever you want. You can’t do that with a drug. You take a drug and you’re kind of stuck with it until it clears itself. But with an electrode, because it’s connected to a circuit, we could flip it on and off at our disposal. So, really, like a different level of precision medicine that we could take advantage of when we’re thinking about a physical device, like a neurostimulator versus a drug.
So, that was my first company in this space of neurostimulation. Fast-forward to today, as you mentioned on the cofounder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience. Again, we’re building neurostimulators here. A different kind of neurostimulator though. So, it’s not a medical implant like my last company. So this is a wearable neurostimulator. So, importantly, no surgery involved. Our first product looks like a set of headphones. But if folks are on our website, what they’ll notice is some special pieces built into the underside of the arch of the headphone. Those are electrodes.
What that does is it gently physically contacts the scalp, and when you turn on the neurostimulator, it provides a level of neurostimulation that is strong enough to get through the skull while gently interacting with just the superficial layers of the cortex.
What that does – So 20 minutes of this special kind of neurostimulation. What that does is it induces a temporary state of hyperplasticity. Just a few minutes ago, we’re talking about neuroplasticity. So, neuroplasticity is the process by which we learn. It’s the process by which we create new circuits in our brain. Hyperplasticity is just more of that.
So, what can we do with this form of neurostimulation and the future of learning in memory? What we see is this is a tool that just about anybody could use to learn faster. Let’s face it, starting in our late teens, our ability to learn starts to decline. This process of neuroplasticity is most robust when we’re young. But as we get older, it starts to slowdown. Importantly, it never goes to zero, which we should all be thankful for of taking advantage of.
But let’s face it, the older we get, the more frustrating it is to learn. What I’m so excited about with this form of neurostimulation is that we’re able to induce these temporary states of hyperplasticity to use it to our advantage. So, this process of learning, we could facilitate that.
One way to think about our technology is that we can make your brain temporarily kid like so that we can learn at the rate, like which we used to, which to me is really exciting. Just full transparency, I’m in my 40s and I certainly remember the days when I was much younger. Even in my 20s when I was in medical school. I could just remember a lot faster. Lot more material in a much shorter time, and I hunger for those days. The cool thing about this technology that we’re developing is that it helps me get back to those days.
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[00:34:45] MB: So I want to break that down a little bit and really concretely and specifically, because I’m really curious about how to actually apply this. So if you induce a state of hyperplasticity. One, how long does that state last in my brain? Then the second piece of that is, if I learn something in that state, and I also have a question about sort of learning that can go on with that. Does the learning that takes place within that state, is that a permanently increased amount of learning?
I guess let’s start with those two, and then I also have a question about what kinds of things I can do, because I know the Halo Neuro is focused primarily around sort of athletic ability or motor skills. But if I wanted to put it on and read a book, could I do that and would that improve my learning retention and permanent sort of memory of what I just read?
[00:35:36] DC: All right. So, let’s pick them off one by one. The first thing you asked about is how long are you in this window of hyperplasticity? So, great question. So 20 minutes of neurostimulation opens up a window of about an hour of hyperplasticity. So let’s get really practical here. So what does that mean with our first product? Our first product is Halo Sport.
Halo Sport is just a fancy marketing term for a motor cortex neurostimulator. So, the motor cortex of this special part of the brain that controls movement in our bodies sits in our brain like a horseshoe going from ear to ear. Right over the top of our head. So, any set of headphones, the arch of the headphone just naturally goes over the motor cortex. Hence, the headphone form factor for Halo Sport. That’s why we pick that form factor, because it’s perfect for us. The arch of the headphone is just naturally going over exactly the neuro anatomy that we want to target. So we build our electrodes into the underside of the arch of our headphones. If you wear that for 20 minutes, what we then want you to do for the next hour is to practice some movement that you want to get better at.
So, we’ve been talking about athletes, and certainly applications in athletic pursuits. But, internally at the company, we have a much broader definition of what we think an athlete is. So, we would consider musicians athletes. So, think about like the technical mechanical skill of playing violin or piano or guitar. We think of folks in the military as athletes, and we think about the mechanical skill of, say, shooting a gun. We think of surgeons as athletes. In fact, we’re working with about a dozen medical schools already to help the next generation of surgeons learn how to tie sutures and this type of thing at an accelerated rate.
So, just getting really practical here, what we want athletes to do or surgeons or folks in the military, what we want them to do is wear the headset for 20 minutes generally while they’re warming up. So the warm up is about 20 minutes. They’re stretching. So on and so forth. The neurostimulation is about 20 minutes. So that’s a nice chunk of time. You’re welcome to take the headset off, after those 20 minutes of neurostimulation, and then what we want you to do for that next hour is to give us awesome training reps, like a thoughtful, deliberate training repetitions.
So, practice three-pointers. Practice your ping-pong forehand. Practice scales on the violin. Whatever kind of movement that you are practicing, during that next hour, you will learn that movement at an accelerated rate.
[00:38:27] MB: Is that learning permanent?
[00:38:28] DC: Exactly. So your question was, in the next hour, you did a bunch of practice and you learned more than you would have otherwise. Awesome! What happens to that additional lift in learning?
So scientists call this the durability of the effect, and it’s been scientifically tested and we can – If you’re interested in rolling up our sleeves, we can talk about some of the data. But, in short, just cutting to the chase, what you learned in the state of hyperplasticity is as durable as any result that you would have gained through a bunch of practice even without neurostimulation. So, it’s a durable effect.
I think, Matt, maybe why you asked that is many people are afraid of some sort of dependence to the neurostimulation, that you have to keep using it to maintain this additional lift in learning benefit, and that’s not true. So, for a brain, whether you learned it the regular way or you learned it with the benefit of neurostimulation. That lift in learning is yours to keep.
[00:39:41] MB: To come back to the earlier analogy of the path through the forest. It starts to pave that road, but the road stays paved even if you don’t ever use the stimulation again.
[00:39:52] DC: Right. So, yeah, the paved road will remain paved as it would even if you didn’t use neurostimulation. But the weeds – If you don’t practice, and this goes back to the first few minutes of the show. If you don’t practice, you’ll see cracks in the pavement and weeds growing through the pavement. If left untended for long enough, it’s going to grow back to the jungle.
[00:40:19] MB: That’s a great way to tie that analogy back up too and come back to the idea of that neuroplasticity cuts both ways and the brain can atrophy as well.
[00:40:27] DC: That’s right. That’s right. So you could lose this nice road. But importantly, the pavement doesn’t crack any faster if you use brain stimulation or not. The weeds don’t grow back any faster if you use brain stimulation or not. That road is as durable whether you use brain stimulation or no brain stimulation. That your road is your road.
[00:40:50] MB: All right. I have a couple more questions about this, because it’s such a novel and an interesting application of some of these cutting edge brain science that it’s a little bit scary for lack of a better term. I mean, I know you’ve done a lot of the research and it’s very safe from all the science. But I just want to hear a little bit more about that. I guess the first piece would be what happens if I put it on the wrong way or put it on the wrong part of my brain?
[00:41:16] DC: Yeah. So if you know how to put on headphones, you will almost certainly not be putting it in like a wrong part of your brain. So, the biggest problem that we have in terms of decisioning is for a lot of our younger users for style reasons. It’s cool or whatever to tilt your headphones backwards more than, say, the generation before. So that’s not us. For us, proper positioning is the headphones straight up and down if you’re standing straight up. So, nice and vertical.
We did a bunch of usability testing before we released our product, and 99% of people who just naturally put on our headphones had proper positioning. That 1% was a couple of young people that tilted it too far back.
[00:42:08] MB: Could I flip them forward and like juice up my prefrontal cortex and then do some reading?
[00:42:14] DC: So, let’s keep going. I want to answer that, but let’s keep going with this. So, let’s just say that you had it on wrong and you’re stimulating some other part of your brain, not the motor cortex. So the worse that could happen is you just don’t get the training benefit. So, let’s say you had it on incorrectly and you just did a bunch of training practicing ping-pong. You’re still going to get a training lift, because you practiced, but you’re not going to get an additional training lift, because your neurostimulation was mis-targeted. If that makes any sense.
So, just to kind of maybe close this chunk of the conversation on safety, because like I’m really happy that you asked, because I think for most people, their first exposure to hearing about neurostimulation is like they’re somewhat fearful of this idea. But the safety data for this technology is incredibly safe. So, we have a database of over a quarter million neurostimulation sessions. In our user base has been incredibly safe.
In the publish literature, there’s been about 4,000 articles published on this topic and there’s been safety data that goes along with just about every single one of these publications and some of them covering hundreds, if not tens of thousands of people sometimes for years on end. In the publish literature, again, it verifies what we found, is that this technology is incredibly safe.
[00:43:44] MB: Yeah. So, that’s great. That definitely helps kind of assuage my safety question. I think the physical piece is really interesting. I’m somebody who also spends a huge amount of time reading, learning, listening to audio books and podcasts and all these kind of stuff. Let’s say just for reading a book, for example, and it may not be possible with the current iteration of the Halo Sport. But could I, in theory, tilt it forward on to my prefrontal cortex and juice that up? That might be the wrong part of the brain quite honestly. I don’t know enough about exactly where that’s going to be happening. But the idea is basically could I reposition it or how would I want to position it or how would I use something like neurostimulation to then go read a book and have that knowledge sync in five times more deeply that it would have previously?
[00:44:31] DC: So, that’s a great question, and the answer is that you could. So, you asked about the prefrontal cortex. So, just for your listeners, the reason why you picked on this part of the brain is because the prefrontal cortex has been implicated in executive function, cognitive function, especially attention and focus. So, neuroscientists, especially cognitive neuroscientists have been interested in this special part of the brain thinking that if we can augment the circuit that centers around the prefrontal cortex, that we can augment cognitive function.
So, sure enough, there’s a wealth of data out there. Many of these papers have come out in the last five years. So, relatively new science. But there’s been dozens of publications that describe the use of neurostimulation applied to the prefrontal cortex that behaviorally generates, benefits in executive function and cognitive function, which just not to spill company secrets, we’re really interested in that.
So, you asked a question with Halo Sport. Hey, we know it’s a neurostimulator. We know it’s meant to target the top of your head, but what if I’m a power user? What if wanted to tilt it forward? So the prefrontal cortex for your listeners is kind of like the top part of your forehead, like right at the hairline in most people.
So, what if you tilt it forward such that the electrodes are now over your prefrontal cortex and you used Halo Sport, and it might look a little silly, because you’ve got headphones now on your forehead. But whatever, right? You want to do neurostimulation of your prefrontal cortex. You absolutely could. Would I recommend it? Maybe not, because Halo Sport is just not meant to target the prefrontal cortex. But we know that some of our power users, like many of our – We’re collaborators with a lot of different scientists and we know that there are certain labs that are using it in this capacity. So it definitely can be done.
[00:46:42] MB: Would the prefrontal cortex be the right place to put it to improve retention of materials that I was learning?
[00:46:50] DC: Absolutely. So you got that right. So there’s even a more special part of the prefrontal cortex called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. So the DLPFC, especially the one on the left. So, this areas has been studied in great detail, probably – It is right up there with the motor cortex and brain regions has been studied with neurostimulation. The results have been really impressive. So, looking at attention and focus and memory, you can enhance all of those things if you stimulate the DLPFC. So, apply that to reading a text book to learn a new body of science or a foreign language or something like that would be a great application.
[00:47:34] MB: Very interesting stuff. So, for somebody who’s listening who maybe doesn’t access to a neurostimulation device, what would be kind of one action item that you would give them to start implementing some of the themes and ideas we’ve talked about today in terms of taking some basic steps towards improving brain health and brain optimization.
[00:47:53] DC: So we talked about sleep. We didn’t talk about exercise. Exercise has been shown over and over and over the – Like great for brain health. I don’t know if any of these is news. But if maybe us talking about it inspired people that actually do it, that would be a huge win for me and hopefully for this podcast. It’s simple enough. Get good sleep and also exercise regularly. I mean, those two things will go such a long way for brain health and performance.
We didn’t talk about vascular health. So, vascular health is brain health. This is for later in life, but all of these things start with health habits when you’re young. When the artery start to harden and narrow, you get into problems with good blood flow through the brain. You also get in to the nth degree. There’s what’s called a brain attack or a stroke. That could happen, and obviously that’s terrible for brain health.
But, healthier arteries start with good habits when we’re young. So that’s about eating right. Maintaining a good healthy weight, and exercise. Yeah, again, not rocket science. Nothing fancy. You just got to do it.
[00:49:12] MB: Great advice, and we talk about it all the time on the show, and we’ll throw some great episodes in the show notes as well that dig in to sleep strategies and much more. But it bears repeating that sometimes the simplest interventions are the most powerful.
Dan, for listeners who want to find more about you and Halo and all of your work and everything you’re doing online, what is the best place for them to go?
[00:49:33] DC: Yeah, the website’s got a ton of stuff. URL is really easy, it’s just haloneuro.com, and you could find us on all the different social media feeds, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, like all the latest company news will also show up on social. Our email list, you can sign up for at our website. We’ll have like additional richer content that folks that really want to dig in and stay abreast with the company. I’d highly recommend that.
[00:50:03] MB: Well, Dan, thank you so much for coming on the show, for digging in to all these fascinating neuroscience. It’s really, really cutting edge stuff, and it’s fascinating. I can’t wait to see where this research keeps going and what other devices and applications you create overtime to help people optimize and hack their brains.
[00:50:21] DC: Yeah. Thanks. It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you so much for having me on the show.
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