Thync is a start-up company founded by entrepreneur Isy Goldwasser and neuroscientist Jamie Tyler who has a Ph.D. in psychology and behavioral neuroscience. Thync has been working on a device for the past three years that is essentially wearable tech to hack your brain. A headset is strapped on and targeted electrical currents are sent into your brain for about 15 minutes to stimulate energy, improve focus or provide a calming effect.
Scientists have experimented for decades sending electrical currents into people’s skulls to treat everything from mental disorders such as depression to improving memory and learning. Brain stimulation is a very real, but unproven area of technology for tinkering with the human mind.
Now Silicon Valley is hoping it can turn brain stimulation tech into sleek, wearable devices for consumers, making the leap from the lab into electronics stores. “For some people it would be their third cup of coffee, for some people it would be their afternoon nap,” said Goldwasser.
A primary technology, Thync is based on trans-cranial direct current stimulation or tDCS, a weak electrical current capable of changing sensitivity in brain neurons. Neurons send signals to each other resulting in the release of chemicals that impact what a person is thinking or feeling. With precision targeting, the currents can create change in how a person’s brain functions.
The market is potentially huge; the U.S. military has even experimented with it as a way to improve pilot training. Thync is focusing on small improvements for already healthy minds. Goldwasser said, “The users are going to be people who really have busy lives and really need tools besides chemicals, drugs or alcohol, they’d like another approach to change their mental state.” Charan Ranganath, a professor at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis said, “I think most people would agree that the jury is still out about whether tDCS has any proven therapeutic or cognitive enhancement effects.”
If tDCS does work, creating the same desired effect in different people is difficult, even in tightly controlled laboratory studies where the equipment is set up and handled by experts. To make tDCS work, the currents must hit specific target areas in the brain, which vary greatly for each person. Everyone’s head is shaped differently and if it’s off by a small amount, a tDCS device could have a drastically different impact.
To counter those concerns, Thync is taking its science, safety and testing seriously. In addition to tDCS, it is using an emerging new technique called trans-cranial pulsed ultrasound, along with custom algorithms and ‘proprietary neurosignaling waveforms.’ Thync has already tested its product on more than 2,000 people. After using Thync, the subjects answer questions about how they feel and the researchers measure their vital signs. If it wants FDA approval down the line, Thync will need to go through extensive clinical trials. Thync plans on having its first product ready by 2015. The California-based company recently secured $13 million in venture capital funding, including from Khosla Ventures. Samir Kaul, a founding partner at Khosla said, “People want more and more control over their lives and bodies, if you can chill out with this device as opposed to having a cocktail, or focus without having another cup of coffee, you are going to do it.”
Brad Stone recently allowed himself to be connected to Thync. “The company’s engineers carefully placed a prototype device with two electrodes on my head and asked if I wanted the ‘energy vibe’ or the ‘calm vibe.’ I chose the latter and for the next 12 minutes, they applied specifically calibrated levels of electricity to target my cranial nerves. When the skin under the pads began to tighten, I lowered the intensity setting on an accompanying iPhone app. It all seemed crazy until halfway through the session, when the familiar knots of stress in my stomach evaporated.”
Sometime next year, the company will begin selling a miniaturized Bluetooth-enabled neurosignaling device, along with the seductive, controversial proposition that customers can program their state of mind. “This is an avenue for people to call up their best stuff on demand,” said Goldwasser. “It’s a way for us to overcome our basic limitation as people. It lets us call up our focus, our calm and creativity when we need it.”
Thync pursued Tyler’s ultrasound techniques for the first year, until the founders learned about studies conducted at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio where researchers had tried to improve pilots’ cognitive abilities with electrical stimulation. Reasoning that the electrical method, with its rapidly improving science, offered a safer, quicker route to the market, Thync switched gears. Since then, the company has worked to shrink the electrodes and develop its algorithms to produce a reliable, comfortable experience.
Some subjects at the trials didn’t respond to the treatment at all, it doesn’t work for everybody, but the company reached a milestone when two out of three respondents started to regularly say the sensations were more powerful than the placebo effect. “Most people rate it as a moderate to strong response,” Goldwasser said of the energy vibe, “or at least as good as a few cups of coffee.”
Sovereign Health treats addictions, mental health disorders and behavioral problems. In addition to therapy, our treatment programs place emphasis on brain wellness and cognitive health. If you would like further information, please call 886-629-0442 to speak with a member of our team who will be happy to assist you.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer
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