Christopher deCharms is a serial entrepreneur, neuroscientist, social entrepreneur, author, inventor, and currently founder and CEO of Omneuron, a life sciences company focusing on novel brain imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) neurotechnologies, and founding executive director of NPO, the Non-Profit President’s Organization, and the Lineage Fund.
DeCharms has developed a set of technologies allowing patients, physicians, researchers, and subjects to visualize and control the functioning of the brain using non-invasive methods based on real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging(rtfMRI), see deCharms’ TED talk, and is exploring applications of functional brain imaging. DeCharms started his research career in neurophysiology as a graduate student and later postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Michael Merzenich at the UCSF Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. This work included recording patterns of brain activation from multiple locations in the brain, and how these patterns of activation underlie perception, experience and learning.
DeCharms and a team of collaborative researchers have explored whether people can learn to control patterns of activation taking place inside their own brains. It had not previously been possible to non-invasively measure brain activation in real time using neuroimaging, but recent advances in computation and neuroimaging have made this a reality using rtfMRI. Subjects’ brain activation patterns are measured using real time fMRI as the subjects watch from inside the scanner using virtual reality goggles, and subjects are trained to control the patterns of activation inside their own brain. This in turn leads to changes in the subjects’ mental experiences. For example, subjects have learned to control activation in brain regions associated with pain, and they report a corresponding decrease in their levels of pain. DeCharms’ team coined the term Neuroimaging Therapy, currently in use to describe this approach. Research on rtfMRI-based training has been published in the scientific literature and has also been broadly covered in the popular press including The New York Times, BBC, NPR, Wired, Technology Review. This research has been conducted at Stanford University and more recently at Omneuron’s 3T MRI Research Center in Menlo Park, California through funding from the National Institutes of Health.