To address the challenges of meditation in the modern world, Toronto based tech company InteraXon developed Muse, a brain-sensing headband that allows users to “unplug” by plugging-in.
Using EEG technology, Muse measures brain signals and gives users real-time feedback about their brain activity while they meditate. The headband connects via Bluetooth to a companion application that translates data into sound—when the headband detects that your brain is calm, the app plays audio of calm winds; when your brain is active, the the wind becomes more turbulent. An app tracks users’ progress with graphs and charts and suggests ways to improve practice over time.
Although marketed as a personal meditation assistant, InteraXon’s low-cost, high-quality wireless EEG technology also has a variety of neuroscience research applications. For example, InteraXon has partnered with several research institutions to study the health benefits of meditation. Muse helps researchers address the challenge of monitoring compliance, making it a particularly useful tool in meditation trials. According to Dr. Graeme Moffat, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at InteraXon, “Muse is really the first tool that gives that kind of data on how much someone is meditating and how well they’re doing.”
One study at the Mayo Clinic is investigating the effects of meditation on breast cancer patients undergoing surgery. Researchers give the Muse headband to patients four to eight weeks before surgery and ask them to meditate regularly.
“You build up an incredible amount of stress knowing that you have cancer and waiting for the surgery—that kind of stress can actually make your health worse and can slow your healing,” says Moffat. “The hope is—and I think the literature on meditation certainly predicts this—that people who get a Muse and practice meditation regularly will not only have a higher quality of life and experience less stress, but they may even heal faster and recover faster from the procedure.” The results of the meditation study will be available in early 2016.
But Muse’s applications aren’t limited to meditation. At the University of Victoria and New York University, researchers are using the device to conduct pedagogical neuroscience research by investigating whether educational outcomes can be improved by better understanding students’ brain activity.
“They roll out Muse in their research projects to 20 or 30 students at a time simultaneously in a classroom,” explains Moffat. “They’re looking at different brain states and how they affect learning and whether or not they can improve their teaching methods on the basis of what is engaging to students and when students start to drop off.”
Of course there are tradeoffs to conducting research with Muse as opposed to a traditional laboratory based EEG system. Although Muse’s signal quality is comparable to a traditional EEG, the Muse headband has fewer channels.
“If you’re looking at a 200 channel system, you can do more with the signals there. You can do source localization, you know where in the brain is the activity coming from” explains Moffat. “But the challenge is that it takes an hour to set up a single person for that kind of experiment. With Muse you’re trading down the number of channels and reducing the amount of data you’re capturing, but you’re increasing the number of people from whom you can collect data simultaneously and in sequence.”
For Moffat, the value of Muse as a neuroscience tool lies not only in the number of subjects from whom you can simultaneously collect data, but also in the device’s portability.
“It allows you to take the laboratory out into the world—into classrooms and in public and into natural and social environments—in a way that it has never been possible to do before.”
Join MedTech Boston and Medstro at the Partners HealthCare Connected Health ’15 Pitch-Off: Emotion Sensing October 28 to see five finalists compete live for a chance to win their own Muse headbands. A cocktail reception will follow the free event. Registration required.
Abby Ballou is the managing editor of MedTech Boston. She has a B.A. and M.Phil in English literature from NYU and the CUNY Graduate Center, respectively. When she isn't writing and editing for MedTech Boston, Abby enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching classic movies and listening to opera.
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