Local psychologist invents neurofeedback system
In a previous story, One Stone Tech Wins First Medical Device Innovation Challenge, here on Upstate Venture Connect, I covered how Central New York is very well positioned to be a hotbed for medical device innovation. I now want to highlight and celebrate another such innovation, which was invented, developed and manufactured right here in Manlius, NY (a suburb of Syracuse).
The inventor, Dr. Jeff Carmen, grew up on Syracuse’s east side from the age of 5, and after graduating from the inaugural class of Onondaga Community College, pursued the remainder of his degrees at our own Syracuse University. After achieving his doctorate in clinical psychology, he attended Harvard Medical University for post-doctorate specialized training.
When I first learned of Dr. Carmen, he was described to me as a psychology engineer. Considering that in his academic career he first pursued engineering and later switched to psychology, this is a very accurate description. Both pursuits collided with the invention of his Passive Infrared Hemoencephalography (pirHEG) neurofeedback system.
For a bit of history, HEG neurofeedback is used to treat many neuropsychological conditions from migraines to anxiety and depression. HEG or HemoEncephaloGraphy is a training method used to increase cellular activity, which is measured via blood flow in parts of the brain; primarily the pre-frontal cortex.
Dr. Hershel Toomim was the inventor of the Near Infrared Spectroscopy Hemoencephalography (nIR HEG) system in 1994, which became known as the “thinking cap.” Similar to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which uses changes in the magnetic properties of blood, resulting from oxygenation to form an image of brain activity, NIR utilizes the changes in blood translucence resulting from oxygenation to generate a signal that can be consciously manipulated in neuro-feedback sessions. At the most basic level, nIR hemoencephalography shines alternating red (660 nm) and near infra-red (850 nm) light on a specific area of the brain, usually through the forehead. In NIR, as the ratio of oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO2) to deoxygenated hemoglobin (Hb) increases, the blood becomes less and less translucent and scatters more of the red light, instead of absorbing it.
Dr. Carmen invented the Passive Infrared Hemoencephalography (pirHEG) in 1998 when he couldn’t afford Hershel’s invention, which would currently cost about $20,000. He decided to make his own; initially prototyping his solution with a kitchen sponge. Passive Infrared (pIR) HEG is the measurement of thermal waste product produced by the increased metabolic activity of the brain cells in the prefrontal cortex (a.k.a the executive control center). Local psychologist, Dr. Janet Jaffe, who uses Dr. Carmen’s system is also a musician. As a result, she perceives the executive control function of the prefrontal cortex as the “orchestra conductor” of our minds. Without the conductor, prior to the performance, the musicians are all warming up individually and the result is a nonsensical cacophony. However, once the conductor is involved, the parts come together to make music.
Whereas nIR HEG measures changes in blood oxygenation and color, both of which change with increased cellular activity, pIR HEG measures the heat waste product given off by the increased cellular activity, which passes through the forehead and is picked up by the pIR HEG non-contact infrared sensors. In other words, as the cells of the prefrontal cortex work harder, they call for more blood, partially for oxygen and glucose, but mostly for cooling. The increased blood flow is part of the mechanism that prevents the increased cellular activity from overheating the cells.
Dr. Carmen keeps all the manufacturing of this invention local, which allows him to continuously refine and integrate circuits. It also allows him to adapt quickly and upgrade as the electronic components are always improving. Dr. Carmen also adamantly remains in control of who is able to use his invention, and claims his business is right where he wants it. It is not sold online and only 1,000 complete systems have been sold with approximately 2,000 headset components sold worldwide. He also offers basic and advanced clinical training for those he sells to.
Luckily for us here in Central New York, there are two local psychologists who Dr. Carmen recognized has the credentials and mindset that align with his own vision for how his invention could benefit others, and have been trained to use pIR HEG. Dr. Janet Jaffe, who was mentioned earlier, and Dr. Christine Tyrrell Baker of the Synergy Center are the first in our area to incorporate this technology into their psychology practice. Dr. Tyrrell Baker is now offering resilience training to her patients, which is complemented by her counseling, education, and skill building she provides as a clinical psychologist.
There are a plethora of people who could benefit from better understanding and practicing the balancing of the interaction between their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems: migraine or brain injury sufferers, athletes working on mental performance enhancement, and more “traditional” prospects like those battling anxiety, depression, anger, and impulsivity in a variety of contexts. Neurofeedback shows great promise for those suffering from ADHD and even PTSD and addiction.
Dr. Tyrrell Baker observes meaningful and significant changes in patients after as few as 3-5 sessions, “People feel more in control, they can observe themselves more, they feel more capable of making choices and decisions. Certain behaviors and habits that people have been suffering with seem to change somewhat effortlessly. It is an exciting tool to incorporate into clinical practice and pIR HEG neurofeedback is safe and effective for both children and adults.”
Dr. Carmen and Dr. Tyrrell Baker are two more great examples of an innovator and early adopter in the medical device innovation ecosystem of CNY. If you are interested in pursuing resilience training for a variety of conditions with Dr. Carmen’s pIR HEG neurofeedback technology, contact Dr. Tyrrell Baker at Wellbeing.firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Jaffe can also be contacted at email@example.com, and to learn more about Dr. Carmen’s clinical practice, which specializes in migraine relief, visit www.stopmymigraine.com.