People ProfilesMay 13, 2024

Meet the CEO changing the way we view the human brain

Laina Emmanuel is on a mission to bring AI to neurology, improving medical innovation and patient outcomes alike.
Avatar Dassault Systèmes

For as long as she can recall, Laina Emmanuel always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“I remember being in school, and when they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I told my teacher I wanted to be a manager,” Emmanuel said. “I remember my friend sitting next to me said she wanted to be a CEO, and I thought, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t stop at manager; I should think bigger!’”

Now, years later, Emmanuel has decades of combined experience in software engineering and international development—and a company to her name.

After starting her career as a software engineer in Bangalore, she transitioned to a career in international development in healthcare that allowed her to travel across rural India, her home country, and work to create social change on a the grassroots level. She then went back to school to get a healthcare-focused MBA in 2013 from one of India’s top business schools.

“I was able to identify key issues in India’s healthcare system, but development work, if you ask any development professional, is a slow process,” Emmanuel explained. “That was frustrating because I really wanted to make a change.”

In an effort to make the difference she wanted to see, and in her search for a role that combined her business and healthcare backgrounds, Emmanuel decided she wanted to start her own company—but just needed the right cofounder.

A year later,  Emmanuel joined a boot camp designed to pair up potential cofounders for future startups. It was there that she met neuroscientist Dr. Rimjhim Agrawal, who had done research and her thesis on using AI to map brain indicators in certain psychiatric conditions. Together, they had a vision for a company that would integrate AI, brain imaging and software principlesto deliver actionable insights on events, activities and patterns in the brain. That task is made complicated by a number of factors, including the evolution in brain scan technology, the limits of MRI technology, the ever-expanding knowledge of the brain and the available computing resources, among others.

Mapping the Brain

At BrainSightAI, Emmanuel and Agrawal are a rare duo in India—two women of tech and science setting out to change how psychiatrists, neurosurgeons and neurologists get actionable insights on patients’ brains.

“Rimjhim and I make a great team. We are a great combination of complementary skills which have allowed our company to succeed,” Emmanuel said.

With their cloud-based software, VoxelBox Explore, BrainsightAI enables researchers and clinicians to access AI powered connectomics. BrainSightAI’s technology can generate 3D personalied maps of an individual’s structural and functional connections in the brain, and can identify patterns in the maps and insights from them. That way, when physicians are planning a surgery, they will be able to understand precisely how every decision they make will impact the patient. BrainsightAI makes this all possible very quickly, requiring just three MRIs. Giving a comprehensive view of the brain can ensure surgical accuracy and a deeper understanding of the patient’s brain function. With this, care teams can determine the best course of action and treatment for the patient’s neurological health.

“We were able to give healthcare providers information that they did not have and package it in a way that is easy for them to understand,” Emmanuel said. “Our results have been amazing.”

BrainSight AI cofounders Dr. Rimjhim Agrawal and Laina Emmanuel
BrainSight AI cofounders Rimjhim Agrawal and Laina Emmanuel – Dassault Systemes blog

From determined child to CEO

Growing up with two older sisters, an artist father, and a mathematician mother, Emmanuel learned early on to think about issues creatively and thoroughly and to never give up.

“Being around my two confident elder sisters and sticking up for myself taught me valuable lessons in self-confidence,” Emmanuel said. “I know that BrainSightAI can change the world because I believe in its value—and it is that value I want to share with others.”

In BrainSightAI’s early days, the two founders received some negative feedback about their idea from doctors and potential investors who didn’t understand what traditional brain scans were missing. Emmanuel and Agrawal only used the feedback to make their company stronger.

“When people told us they didn’t like our idea and advised us to come back when it was more thoroughly developed, we were able to return to them and say, ‘Remember us? We have now worked on over 450 live brain tumor cases.’”

Part of this success has come down to BrainSightAI’s partnerships. Although partnering with hospitals has allowed them to access more patients, joining the Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Lab Accelerator program has given Emmanuel and her team access to technology, mentorship, and networking opportunities to grow their company.

Agrawal and Emmanuel now have hundreds of patients across 30 different hospital groups who have directly benefitted from BrainSightAI’s VoxelBox Explore. This is thanks in large part to Emmanuel’s relentless drive to succeed and affect positive change, which has never faltered.

“I really had to do my research because I don’t have the neuroscience background Rimjhim does,” Emmanuel explained. “I read so many materials, studies, and papers about the brain and this technology because I realized I had to hold my own and be able to answer the questions doctors had.”

Changing the future of healthcare

Emmanuel wants VoxelBox Explore to be in as many hospitals as possible.

“Research shows that every 1 in 3 people worldwide has some type of neurological disorder,” Emmanuel said. “They all deserve to have access to the information we can provide.”

To achieve that, Emmanuel’s next step is breaking into the pharmaceutical industry.

“We’re already working with neuro-surgeons and psychiatrists to help with patient treatment,” Emmanuel said. “But what if we could understand the impacts of a drugs on a patient’s brain? We could absolutely change the way these types of drugs are tested and used on patients.”

Over time, Emmanuel envisions BrainSightAI’s groundbreaking technology transcending boundaries, reaching individuals worldwide, and democratizing access to invaluable healthcare insights.

With each step forward, the company redefines the healthcare landscape, driven by a belief in the transformative power of knowledge and compassion. In this way, Emmanuel has made the change she always wished to see in the world.

Laina Emmanuel isn’t the only one helping reshape the world of neuroscience. Check out some of the other humans driving progress.

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