Rebrands, grant wins and the Eureka Awards – A sit down with Carbon Cybernetics

Dr Wei Tong, a member of the Carbon Cybernetics team, holding some special microscope glasses up to work on one of the company's special miniature neural implants.
Carbon Cybernetics is an Australian MedTech company developing miniaturised, high resolution neural implants that will one day be used to predict and prevent seizures.

Their mission is to help those living with epilepsy and other neurological diseases lead a seizure-free life. We met the team at Carbon Cybernetics two years ago and helped them transform their visual identity into a sleek, modern brand.

Now, their work is making big strides and the team is up for a prestigious prize at this year’s upcoming Eureka Awards. Our Creative in Chief sat down with CTO, Dr Matias Maturana and Chairman, Prof. Steven Prawer to hear more about their journey and what’s next for Carbon Cybernetics.

What gave you the idea of forming a start-up company?

Matias: Nick Apollo and I worked closely together when we were doing our PhDs. Nick was working on novel electrode materials while I worked in experimental neuroscience.

Our work and interest in neuroscience brought us together, and soon we were conducting experiments together. Nick and his supervisor, David, had worked on an idea of a multielectrode array. Towards the end of our PhDs, Nick and I decided to make a company around the idea to help accelerate the development of the technology.

Can you describe how your devices work?

Matias: Our device is comprised of extremely small carbon fibre electrodes. Each electrode sits within a diamond substrate which keeps the electrodes aligned into a square array. This array is slowly inserted into the brain to record neuronal signals. The electrodes pick up electrical impulses passing through neurons that are close to the tip of the electrodes. These impulses are then amplified and sent to a computer for analysis. 

A close up of a miniaturised neural implant engineered by Carbon Cybernetics.
How do you find working in such a multidisciplinary team?

Matias: Our team is very scientific, so, our conversations are great (maybe just to us?)! It is always great to learn about something you do not specialise in. Our team is constantly doing that. We have very close collaborators in Canada which has also created opportunities to travel and learn new techniques from there.

Steven: This is one of the greatest pleasures of this project. We have a common goal, but very different ways of seeing the world and how we can contribute. This sort of synergy means that we can solve problems faster.

What does a typical day look like at Carbon Cybernetics?

Matias: Our day-to-day work primarily consists of device fabrication and animal experiments. A typical day consists of some members working on milling diamond, threading electrodes, coating electrodes with insulators, taking high-resolution images or working on animal experiments.

Steven: As a physicist, I am naturally more comfortable with lasers and reactors, but I’ve found great pleasure in watching the surgeons apply their craft in the insertion of electrodes. While watching, I’ve been able to see opportunities to use new materials to solve problems and our team is strong enough so that we are prepared to give these ideas a shot. Some work out and some do not, but a big part of the day is talking and interacting with each other in problem-solving.

Simon Higham working on a neural implant for Carbon Cybernetics.

“This [working in a multidisciplinary team] is one of the greatest pleasures of this project. We have a common goal, but very different ways of seeing the world and how we can contribute. This sort of synergy means that we can solve problems faster.”

– Prof. Steven Prawer, Chairman of Carbon Cybernetics

What barriers did you have to overcome to get Carbon Cybernetics where it is today? Has COVID impacted your progress?

Matias: Funding is always one of the biggest challenges. We have been fortunate to be awarded some prestigious grants that have kept us going. COVID has also created its own challenges, with limited access to our laboratories or external labs and challenges with recruitment.

What has been biggest milestone so far?

Matias: The one that has kept us going is the BioMedTech Horizons grant. Receiving this has allowed us to really concentrate resources on proving our product. On the product side, a major achievement has been demonstrating we can implant the devices and that they remain safe in the brain over long periods.

A/Prof David Garrett smiling after a presentation for Carbon Cybernetics.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you began this start-up journey?

Steven: We started out thinking that we could be a general neural device company. I wish that we had recognized earlier that our real value lay in the ability to use our devices to help people with epilepsy, and that our devices are a means to an end.

How has the re-brand helped Carbon Cybernetics along the journey?

Matias: Our re-brand has definitely brought a lot more attention to what we are doing. Our website and logo look professional, and it helps us to stand out. The rebrand definitely helped in awarding us the BioMedTech Horizons grant.

A surgeon at Carbon Cybernetics working at a computer.
The Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in research and innovation. What would winning a Eureka Prize mean to you and the team?

Matias: For the company, the Eureka prize would bring us much needed recognition which will help us achieve our next funding milestone. For each individual academic, the prize is invaluable to each individual’s career.

Steven: It would also be a recognition that a small medical start-up can in fact shake up an industry which has been using much the same electrode technology that has been around for the past half century.

“Our re-brand has definitely brought a lot more attention to what we are doing. Our website and logo look professional, and it helps us to stand out. The rebrand definitely helped in awarding us the BioMedTech Horizons grant..”

– Dr Matias Maturana, CTO of Carbon Cybernetics

What's next for Carbon Cybernetics?

Matias: We will continue to prove our technology. Our next major milestone is demonstrating a proof of concept in humans.

BONUS QUESTION: If you received 10x the budget you have now, what would you do with the funding?

Matias: Our biggest limitation is time and human resources to experiment and fabricate our devices. 10x funding would mean we could increase the size of our team and accelerate the development of the technology.

This would mean we can get it into humans more quickly and achieve our goal of creating a functional cure for epilepsy.

The Carbon Cybernetics team posing for a team photo.
Follow the Carbon Cybernetics journey

The Eureka Prize winners are announced Thursday, October 7, 2021. We invite you to register to watch the live broadcast and help support Carbon Cybernetics and all the wonderful, groundbreaking work being done in Australia’s STEM sector.

If you’d like to follow the Carbon Cybernetics team on their journey to help improve the lives of those living with epilepsy, you can visit their website and follow them on the social media channels, (we hear their content is very good)!

Do you have a start-up?

We have a lot of experience branding and positioning start-ups for success – just like Carbon Cybernetics! Check out some of the testimonials on our homepage to see what others have to say about working with us. 

If you’re interested in us becoming your forever creative collaborator, book a free 30-minute consult with Molly to help you get the ball rolling on your next project – we can’t wait to work with you!

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