At the High Tech Campus, seven start-ups have been busy with the HighTechXL accelerator program for the last three months. They are on their way to the XL Day on 6 December, where they can win over future investors. E52 takes a glimpse into the crowd and works towards XL Day with portraits of the start-ups. Today: Project Ipsilon.
Project Ipsilon is based in Rotterdam, but actually not a strictly Dutch global start-up. With a medical advisor in San Francisco, a strategist in New York, a business developer in Amsterdam and researchers in Eindhoven, it is very much an international enterprise. The founder and CEO of Project Ipsilon, Yayoi Sakaki, is a Japanese pianist, who lives in New Jersey and is in Eindhoven for the HighTechXL accelerator program. She tells about the origins of the start-up: “My background is classical piano. I’ve been performing in different venues such as Carnegie Hall Weill Recital Hall, but I’m also a teacher. I see a lot of students that are diagnosed with ADHD and take a lot of medication. But I wonder if every one of them actually needs to take that much medication. Diagnosing ADHD remains controversial due to lack of established protocols. We live in a society of instantaneous gratification and the patience and attention level of average students are much lower, compared to the students ten years ago. The cognitive capabilities of the children today are also lower. Taking that in account, it is very difficult to diagnose ADHD properly.” Sakaki wondered if some of her students were a victim of over-diagnosis; and after a lot of research, she decided to use her love of music and combine it with technology to help detect it.
“L-DOPA is almost like a death sentence; if you have to start with medication, sooner or later you will have uncontrollable movement.”Yayoi Sakaki, Founder Project Ipsilon
Project Ipsilon was born. Some biofeedback sensor devices, combined with a keyboard, that can test the cognitive capabilities of ADHD, dementia and Parkinson’s patients. “Both ADHD and Parkinson’s are dopamine-related diseases. If you have a lack of dopamine, your cognitive capabilities can be compromised.” The system can measure impulse control, decision making, visual attention level and special orientation. “We have simplified music to let you know what key on the keyboard you need to press, as well as an instruction which finger you need to use to press down that key. Your brain responds naturally to that information. The actual movement of your finger shows if you are just guessing or actually understood the instruction. We correlate all that information to responses from sensors, and that materializes as an assessment of your cognitive functions.”
The start-up is working together with several medical institutions and academic hospitals. “A hospital in Italy is almost ready to start the clinical trial. Also, we have been in touch with the John Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine and hope to establish a new therapy using music to help regulate the dopamine level. We are still open for more clinical trials. The more data we have, the more precise diagnostics we can make.”
Just like other founders of start-ups, Sakaki has high hopes for the future: “My hope for the future is that our device helps children with ADHD to reduce the intake of their medication. Because even though these medications are very heavily prescribed, no long-term effect studies have been done. Despite of the fact that similar chemical components are known for reducing grey matter of your brain, such type of medication is being prescribed. This may increase the likelihood of you developing dementia at an early age. Can you imagine the six million kids in the USA that take those medications could have dementia at 35 years old?”
A lot of ideas are born when people see problems in our society; unfortunately, Project Ipsilon is no different in that manner: “An extended family member of mine passed away with Parkinson’s. I saw that when you start with the medication L-DOPA, you have a high probability to develop uncontrollable movement called dyskinesia as side-effect after a few years. That is very devastating for people that get the disease. It is almost like a death sentence; if you have to start with medication, sooner or later you will have uncontrollable movement. That really affects who you are. We hope that this particular methodology for therapy, especially to regulate the dopamine level, will help ease some stigma of medication while the medicine catches up to find the actual cure for the Parkinson’s disease.”