Motivation — What Drives Us, from Achieving Goals to Addiction

Host: Dr. Lauren Wolfe, Co-founder & Chief Clinical Officer, Annum Health and Associate Training Director, Health Psychology Program, CPMC

Subject Matter Experts: Dr. Rob Malenka, Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Dr. Anna Lembke, Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, Dr. Casey Halpern, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Stanford University, and Matt Loper, Founder, Wellth, and Brie Linkenhoker, Founder, Worldview Studio

Dopamine, the “motivation molecule,” drives us to fulfill our most rational needs and achieve our goals. An essential determinant of adaptive behavior, it allows us to concentrate and resist impulses. But its neural pathways also underlie our most irrational addictive behaviors. In the age of mass misuse and addiction to substances such as alcohol and opioids, how can recent advances in our understanding of motivation allow us to develop novel treatment approaches and enact policies that address both the biological and psychosocial needs of today’s patients? What could go wrong if our growing scientific understanding allows us to hack our motivation systems?

This discussion will focus on opportunities and challenges pertaining to new levers that might create large-scale shifts in intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.



Attachment — the Science of Belonging vs. Isolation, Connections with Autism

Hosted by Dr. Karen J. Parker, Stanford University

Subject Matter Expert: Dr. Nirao Shah, Stanford University

How much did your parents hold you as a baby? When you cried, how quickly did they respond? None of us remember the earliest stage of our lives — infancy — but those years are formative in our social and emotional development. Introduced by development psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s, attachment theory brought to the forefront the impact of our early lives on how we make friends, meet our spouses, and develop other relationship in our lives. Findings in this field have the potential to change the lives of not only those with autism spectrum disorder, a common neurodevelopmental disorder with an estimated prevalence of 2% of all births, but also impart valuable life lessons on how we — and specifically, our children and grandchildren — can all get along better.

Areas of Impact

●      Biology of Social Development

●      Social Development and Disorders related to Social Functioning

●      Stress





COGNITION — The Supercharged Brain / The Mind in Decline

Hosts: Dr. Ruth O'hara and Dr. Leanne Williams, Stanford University

Expert Contributor: Dr. David Hong, Stanford University

Cognition is how we process information from the environment and incorporate it into our worldview, concerning judgment, learning, memory, communication, and many other essential mental functions. More broadly, cognitive research also promises a deeper understanding of society and humanity: what is it that makes humans human? Cognition is the human experience — which is what makes cognitive enhancement so exciting and cognitive decline in advanced age so debilitating. The human, social, and economic opportunities and costs are enormous. As we discover more about deleterious genes, mental functioning, and social determinants, we can improve lives through better performance, as well as better prevention, treatment, and care. Join us in exploring emerging opportunities to enhance cognition both in healthy and declining minds.

Areas of Impact

●      Learning and education

●      Memory

●      Social interaction, communication, social determinants of health, social phenomena

●      Artificial intelligence

●      Linguistics

●      Consciousness and perception

●      Decision-making, behavioral economics

●      Developmental psychology, child care




Resilience — Pathways from Trauma to Wellbeing

Host: Dr. Rebecca Brachman, Co-founder & Chief Scientific Officer, Sunrise, Neuroscientist, Columbia University

Expert Contributors: Dave Morin, Co-founder & CEO, Sunrise, Founder & Partner, Slow Ventures, (former) Founder & CEO, Path

Dr. Allyson Gage, Chief Medical Officer, Cohen Veterans Bioscience

Dr. Laramie Duncan, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University


Trauma from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the violence of terrorism and war, and other challenging circumstances may paralyze us at first. But resilience, a positive adaptability, can allow us to preserve or regain mental health in the face of adversity. An exploration of what makes one resilient can allow us to better meet the psychosocial needs of many individuals, from survivors of childhood trauma and sexual violence to refugees and forcibly displaced migrants. Join us in discussing the emerging field of preventative psychiatry, and going deeper on the question of whether we can use a vaccination approach to prevent conditions like depression and PTSD.

Areas of Impact

●      The global refugee crisis

●      Development of health systems in conflict and war-stricken regions

●      Facing adversity with grace and self-care

●      Trauma-induced physical impairments, e.g. hypertension and coronary heart disease

●      Mental health in adolescence

●      Youth responses to school shootings




Sleep — Benefits of Good Sleep and Conquering Sleep Disruption

Host: Dr. Raphael Pelayo, Stanford University

Expert Contributors: Dr. Luis de Lecea and Dr. Philippe Mourrain, Stanford University and Dr. Matthew Walker, UC Berkeley

The average human will spend 230,000 hours, or one-third, of their life sleeping. Anecdotally, we all know how important sleep is. Without it, our mental acuity, physical energy, emotion, learning, and almost every other aspect of our brains and bodies are subpar. However, science has yet to fully understand its purpose. Evolutionarily, it is mysterious why a state of apparent vulnerability and unconsciousness would develop in so much of the animal kingdom. Biologically, it is not fully understood how sleep affects other biological processes and what makes sleep vital to so many biological systems and functions. For such an intrinsic, familiar, and desirable phenomenon, there remain huge gaps in our understanding of sleep. Join us in exploring what we know, and what we need to know, in order to maximize healthful sleep patterns for all.

Areas of Impact

●      Brain health

●      Learning and memory

●      Work productivity, attention and concentration

●      Public health issues with sleep deprivation, sleep schedules, sleep and work schedules

●      Sleep-related disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, and sleep apnea

●      Accident prevention


Longevity — Slowing the Brain’s Aging Process

Host: Dr. Joon Yun,  Palo Alto Investors, LLC,

Expert Contributor: Dr. Lauren Carstensen, Stanford University

The consequences of aging manifest themselves not only on our outward appearance, but also in our brains. The decline of cognitive function and mental capacity is tightly linked to age and manifests itself in individuals with age related disease like Alzheimer’s but also in the brains of healthy individuals. In an attempt to slow, stop, or possibly reverse the brain’s aging process, scientist are examining the crucial role of the hypothalamus, neurotransmitters like dopamine, diet, and lifestyle play in slowing the brains aging process. Reducing dietary intake and transplanting inflammation-resistant stem cells into the hypothalamus has proved effective in slowing aging in mice. The next frontier in aging research relies on seeing how mice models translate to human models. 


Areas of Impact

            • Neurodegenerative diseases

            • Healthcare

            • Nootropics




Flow — Being in the Zone: Fluidity in Attention and Action

Hosted by Jamie Wheal, Rich Diviney

Subject Matter Expert: Dr. Vinod Menon, Stanford University

Norepinephrine, dopamine and enandamine are just some of the neurotransmitters that flood the brain and create the feeling characterized by intense focus and immersion in an activity that is both challenging and pleasurable. This feeling, known as flow and more colloquially as “being in the zone”, leads to enhanced motivation, creativity, and learning. Laser focus paired with reduced signal to noise ratio during flow enhances pattern recognition and lateral thinking, improving intelligence and cognitive processes. “Finding flow” in daily activities has been touted by some as the key to happiness and increased performance mentally and physically. Despite this, researchers warn of the addictive properties of constant engagement in flow inducing activities. Join us in discussing this fascinating phenomenon, along with the challenges and opportunities ahead as we harness the science of flow.

Areas of Impact

●      Advanced Learning

●      Greater efficiency in sports training

●      Better productivity and work output

●      Improving job satisfaction

●      Raising quality of life



Strategic Philanthropy and Purpose-Driven Investing — Novel Models for Accelerating Neuroscience

Hosted by Calvin Nguyen, Founding COO, BrainMind

Expert Contributors: 

Dr. Rob Reich, Stanford University

Dr. Paula Goldman, Omidyar Network

Dr. Melanie Walker, Univerdity of Washington


How can charitable giving provide even greater benefits to society? What systematic changes would be required to achieve that? Underutilized forms of capital support can be used by philanthropic organizations, corporations, and individuals to accelerate impactful ideas in neuroscience while also creating self-sustaining or profitable enterprises. Up for discussion: donor-advised funds, program-related investments, venture philanthropy, and others. Take part in defining informed, strategic giving. Join us in this breakout discussion module to explore the very heart and mission of BrainMind and this conference, and help to accelerate groundbreaking ideas.

Areas of Impact

●     Healthcare, neurotech, basic research

●     Wealth Management

●     Venture Philanthropy

●     Impact Investing




Idea/Company Formation —

Treating Neurological Conditions with Non-invasive Brain Stimulation

Hosted by Dr. Ed Boyden, MIT

We have developed a new method that lets us focus the effects of electric fields deep inside the brain, without implants or surgery.  What is the path to clinical trials and commercialization, so that this technology might broadly help with neurological and psychiatric disorders?  We will discuss the technology, the potential clinical uses, and then brainstorm about how the technology might be deployed into the world.

Areas of Impact

●      Neurological disorders

●      Psychiatric disorders

Suggested Pre-reads

1.     Broad overview:

2.     Technical content:




Hosted by Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen, CEO and Founder of Openwater

MRI-resolution wearables and devices can leverage consumer electronics manufacturing facilities and techniques, awesome computing power, and AI methods. The result can drive the size and cost of the best medical imaging systems down to consumer electronic prices. Such systems, as they evolve, can ultimately both read (image) and write (perform surgery, ablate, provide targeted therapy, accelerate drug testing, etc) to specific areas of the body or scan the entire body. And beyond. 

Areas of Impact

●      3D Medical Imaging

●      Brain-Computer Interfaces

Suggested Pre-reads



IDEA/COMPANY FORMATION: Discovering Curative Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease with Machine Learning

Host: Dr. Katharina Volz, CEO and Founder, OccamzRazor

Expert Contributor: Alexander Levy, EIR at Silicon Valley Bank, Co-Founder and former COO, Atomwise


We see significant potential at the convergence of AI and neuroscience to find disease-modifying treatments for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and other complex diseases. To cure a complex and multifactorial disease like PD, we need to go beyond targeting just a single gene or a single disease mechanism. Analysis of unstructured and structured biomedical datasets (e.g., published literature, preclinical and clinical trial results) can yield a knowledge graph representing all known information about PD. This graph can be used to drive downstream therapeutic insight, augment decision-making in biomedical research, and generate strategic therapeutics development. Join us in exploring this exciting application of machine learning for therapeutic discovery.

Suggested Pre-reads

1) Natural language processing pipeline published with Stanford at ACL, the #1 ranked publishing venue for NL

2) General overview for AI for drug discovery