Testing Thync: A Calming, Energizing Personal Brain Modulator

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For many professionals, stress, fatigue, and anxiety are synonymous with their daily lives. How do these individuals power through their days? A few cups of coffee in the morning? Perhaps a few drinks at the end of a day to help them feel more relaxed? In some cases, individuals find “solutions” to their problems that are far more harmful than the problems themselves.

What if there was a solution that could make you feel calm or energized, without any of the side effects associated with things like alcohol, caffeine, or sleeping pills?

According to the founders of Thync, there may be a solution. Thync is a portable brain modulation wearable device — currently in development — that can be placed on one’s forehead and controlled by a smartphone app. Using a unique variation of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the device targets not only nearby brain regions, but also cranial nerves. This stimulation may modulate both human cortical function and somatosensory processing. Thync delivers a special waveform to achieve its effect, differentiating itself from other electrical stimulation devices, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines, which have been FDA-approved for pain conditions.

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Displaying the Thync application as the device runs. All photos by the authors of this article.

 

Venture capitalists and industry analysts clearly believe in Thync.The company obtained $13 million in a series A funding round, primarily from Khosla Ventures, and earned a Consumer Electronic Show (CES) Cool Tech Award, despite only providing discrete private showings of its products. Could this be the future of psychiatric treatment?

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Several days ago, we found ourselves — along with colleague Daniel Kraft MD, the Chair of Exponential Medicine — in a suite at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas for a private demonstration of Thync. We had spent the whole day furiously on the go without breaks at the CES Digital Health Summit. Fifteen minutes of Thync for calmness and energy? Sign us up — and, let’s sign up every single overworked medical resident and physician.

Although Thync didn’t want us to take photos of the device itself, the device is small enough to sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. It has a smooth, shell-like appearance. It is visually appealing, which is a marked difference to many of the other neuro-modulation devices on the market.

Thync has also already conducted a studies with hundreds of participants, and their chief science officer Jamie Tyler, is a powerhouse researcher in neuromodulation (with publications in Nature, PLoS ONE, Neuron, and Brain Stimulation). While their most recent clinical trials have not been publicly released at this time, the Thync founders had no problem answering questions about their use of placebo controls, technology, and outcomes. And from our perspective, their responses were substantially better than those given by many other neurotech companies touting their wares on the convention floor of CES.

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The Thync application settings.

Then the moment came for us to try Thync for ourselves. We each chose one “vibe” (there are currently “calm” and “energy” vibe options, although more are in the works). As the device was placed on our foreheads and the program began, there was little happening at first. Then we started to notice some tingling on our foreheads where the device was placed; it was mild and transient. Using the supplied iPhone app, we gradually increased the intensity setting during the 15-minute session. By the end of the session, we had maximized the intensity to 100%. We did feel more relaxed and calm, but could we say that was 100% due to Thync? Absolutely not. But, we did feel an extra air of calm. We also had a chance to use the energy vibe, again with positive results, similar at least to a cup of coffee. We didn’t feel any side effects except the tingling, and experienced no skin irritation or headaches afterward, both of which are common side effects of other neuro-modulation technologies.

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So is this the future? We think so – especially as the field of neuromodulation becomes more and more accessible to consumers. The founders made it clear that Thync is not currently aimed at diagnosing or treating any medical conditions, although they have been in communication with the FDA. For now, it’s a device that aimed at helping healthy adults achieve calmness, energy and focus.

There have been no significant issues regarding Thync’s safety profile, according to the company. We do know that many people already engage in alcohol, drugs, and other activities due to stress, anxiety, and mood problems. Thync may allow for a safer way to alleviate these problems.

Arshya Vahabzadeh MD and Steven Chan

Arshya Vahabzadeh M.D. is a physician psychiatrist who is committed to addressing the nations most pressing healthcare needs through medical innovation, in particular the challenges faced by individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions. He is the upcoming Chairman of the Council of Communications of the American Psychiatric Association and a consultant to Khan Academy & Neurolaunch. He is widely published in clinical neuroscience and medical communication. Dr. Vahabzadeh has written numerous media editorials and leads a federally funded program to provide autism educational outreach. He has received over 15 national and international awards and is now also the VP of Health Strategy and Communication at Brain Power LLC.

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Steven Chan is regarded as an accomplished top thinker in the intersection of health services delivery, medicine, business, and technology. Steve not only reports on the latest technology trends as contributor to iMedicalApps.com — a leading news site written by physicians for physicians on mobile health — but also develops cutting-edge research in the areas of asynchronous telepsychiatry, smartphones and mobile wearable devices for mental health, and applications for cultural psychiatry and underserved minority health. Steve's ideas, thoughts, and research have been featured in JAMA, Healthcare, and JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research). With the support of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Steve serves as current American Psychiatric Association (APA) & SAMHSA MFP Fellow to the APA Council of Communications and Workgroup on Mental Health & Psychiatric Apps. Dr. Chan draws from his extensive MD, MBA, and informatics training at the University of California’s leading institutes — UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, as well as UCLA, UC San Francisco and Stanford University — and is currently a resident physician in psychiatry & behavioral sciences at UC Davis School of Medicine.

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1 Comment

  1. N. Garcia says:

    Neuromodulation technologies are a broad field of devices, including spinal cord stimulators, deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation or vagus nerve stimulation as FDA-approved treatments for treatment-resistant depression, cochlear implants, etc. — not sure what headache/skin irritation you are alluding to as “common” side effects; for instance, see the MEDLINE-indexed journal “Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface” for peer-review data about safety, efficacy, etc. of therapies that use neuromodulation. (FYI the 12th World Congress on Neuromodulation will be in Montreal in June.)

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