UA Startup Delivers Real-Time Brain Chemistry Measurement Tools
The software and methods developed will enable scientists to understand how brain chemistry changes during learning, chronic pain and other neurological disorders.

By Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
July 1, 2016


Michael Heien
Michael Heien (Photo credit: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

The University of Arizona has licensed a new technology for measuring brain chemistry in real-time to startup Knowmad Technologies.

Michael Heien, an assistant professor in the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Science and the UA College of Medicine — Tucson, invented the system and is commercializing the technology with his former postdoc and Knowmad co-founder, Chris Atcherley.

The invention enables researchers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry to monitor neurotransmitters (chemical messengers which allow the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next) in real-time in targeted regions of the brain simultaneously.

"The software and methods that we have developed are used by many labs to measure neurotransmitters during behavior and drug challenges. It will enable us to understand how brain chemistry changes during learning, chronic pain and other neurological disorders," Heien said. "In the future, we will be able to map the neurochemistry across different brain structures, allowing us to understand how the entire system is changing."

Tech Launch Arizona the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from University research, facilitated the process of defining the intellectual property, patenting the invention and licensing it to Knowmad.

To date, researchers have been dependent upon measuring behavior in animal models to make research observations.

"This technology is going to give us great new insights," said Paul Eynott, the TLA licensing manager for the College of Science. "It allows researchers to get a better handle on what’s happening to the neurotransmitters in the brain which can no doubt lead to new insights into the pathophysiology of neurological diseases and therefore new treatments."

For example, even though we know that therapies such as antidepressants bind to the appropriate receptors in the brain within minutes after dosing, these therapies take up to six weeks before any clinical benefit can be observed and research has yet to explain why.

Ultimately, the goal is to develop a better understanding of how current therapies work and formulate better ones based on a clearer understanding of the chemical mechanisms underlying neurological disorders like depression. 

Eynott said: "With the tools that Knowmad is bringing to market, researchers will be able to begin to address these questions and many others."


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Paul Tumarkin

Tech Launch Arizona