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Start-Ups Making Electronic Implants to Treat Obesity

Trying to mimic gastric bypass operations with the flick of a switch

5 min read

28 April 2005— All over the industrialized world people are getting fatter. Obesity rates in the United States, for example, have ballooned from about 10 percent in the early 1960s to 30 percent in 2000. And with obesity come a cohort of other health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Though a recent epidemiological study has cast doubt on how deadly obesity really is—revising the number it kills each year in the United States downward from 400 000 to 112 000—the risk is still enough to drive more than 100 000 obese people per year to seek a surgical solution. Gastric bypass surgery is a radical remodeling of the gut that reduces the stomach's volume and scales back a person's ability to absorb nutrients. But the surgery comes with a risk of complications—including death—and it is irreversible. So a group of companies have set about adapting that old standby of the medical device industry, the pacemaker, to mimic the effects of gastric bypass surgery—but reversibly, and with minimal surgery or, in one case, none.

The concept attracted over US $40 million in venture capital last year, and progress has been rapid. One firm's device is approved for use in the European Union and Canada, and the company, Transneuronix Inc., in Mt. Arlington, N.J., recently finished enrolling hundreds of patients in the trials it will use to gain approval in the United States. The other companies plan trials in humans starting this year.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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