ISTM #26: Apollo Neuro’s Mission: Good Vibes for Good Health

ApolloProducts

I follow disruptive technologies where-ever I can find them. Lately, I am finding more and more of it in healthtech and medtech where AI and AR seem to me to be playing bigger and bigger roles.

In the last few weeks, I have seen a bunch that I liked. I plan to write a good deal about devices I am seeing.

Just to clarify closely related and often-confused terms: healthtech involves digital technology that helps people quantify their health: Fitbit is a good example. Medtech is more associated  with  devices used in coordination with medication practitioners.

Lately there is a whole new breed that I would call hybrids. I am about to get a DexCom G6, a wearable device that will stop me from jabbing my finger fore blood samples from three-to-five times daily. In my case, DexCom will be managed my me, but data—with my permission is also being shared with an endocrinologist who serves more like a coach, than a controller.

The Buzz Under the Table

Of the half-dozen health treatment startups I’ve recently looked at, my favorite so far is the  Apollo wearable band from Apollo Neuroscience. Co-founded in 2017, by Dr. David Rabin and Kathryn Fantauzzi makes a wearable hybrid device that uses low-frequency vibrations to improve user focus, reduce stress, beat insomnia, improve cognitive performance and manage Heart Rate Variability. The company is also evaluating the soon-to-be released Apollo band for treating  both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Autism.

The co-founders are also a married couple. David is functionally the CTO who first perceived of and then developed Apollo therapy. Fantauzzi, a Smith College graduate, serves as the CEO handling all aspects of business and finance.

I met them a couple of weeks back in a trendy San Francisco Greek restaurant shortly before Apollo Neuro started accepting subscription orders on the website for delivery in January.

I had been told little about them in advance. When I arrived,  David and Kathryn presented me with two wearable devices: The first was a recent beta version, which was fully functional, but not exactly elegant in appearance but worked just fine; the other looked exactly like the finished device but was not yet operational.

The finished Apollo band looked to me like a high-end smart watch -- except that it had no face. I strapped that one to my wrist and the old beta version to my ankle.  Soon I forgot about either as the three of us engaged in a lively and free-ranging conversation.

I soon felt like I was with old friends as we chatted away about lifestyles on the two US coasts; philosophical differences in approaches to health and well-being between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, meditation, psychedelics. I learned that David was raised in Mill Valley, near where I live. I shared with them that I have been hiking for many years on Mount Tamalpais the mountain above David’s hometown.

Connecting & Fiddling

It felt pretty random as we chatted, but I would soon learn that these conversational dots were connected, and each had much to do with the Apollo wristband including my hikes. These scattered tidbits would be neatly woven together before this lunch was over.

As we chattered away, I found myself so completely engaged that I forgot something I have always remembered during thousands of interviews over more than 30 years: Take notes.  I was enjoying myself so much, that I forgot my business mission and this couple who seemed so completely relaxed and engaging were actually giving me a small taste of how their product worked.

At some point, however, I noticed David was spending a fair amount of time fiddling with his phone. This of course is not uncommon these days in any social gathering of the modern world. I just assumed he was handling some other aspect of his business. It was to be expected since they were in the final stages of launch mode, which many of you understand as a very stressful time.

I had my own distraction as well. I was becoming increasingly aware of a strange but pleasant sensation meandering up on my left leg, just above where my Apollo was attached. I sensed a low vibration, and perhaps a wisp of a tropical breeze that was causing my leg hair to tingle.  After two or three rounds of this, I started to notice these odd sensations had immediately followed David’s phone fiddling.

He readily confessed that he was using the phone app to demonstrate how various Apollo programs facilitated shifts in my mood. He noted that the vibrations were doing more than stimulating my shinbone: they were sending signals to the emotional portion of my brain.

The result is that I had become unusually relaxed—so relaxed—that I had forgotten to take notes during the interview. This was a product presentation like no other that I had ever experienced. I would have gotten more excited, but I was too relaxed to be excited.

David would later clarify that he had merely played with the vibrations as part of a product demo. In real life, Apollo users have total control over the wearable through the app, adjusting the programs to their personal needs.

The remainder of our time together showed me how this simple wearable device could be a breakthrough in the treatment of some of humankind’s most challenging disorders. It also represents a unique convergence of Eastern and Western approaches to human well-being and, to top it, off it was an extremely cool use of wearable AI technology.

Converging Meditation with Medication

Most of us understand that in the West, we try to fix what’s broken in people by collecting data and prescribing medications. Conversely, in the East they often try to repair the inner self with meditation in a variety of forms. While there’s much talk about holistic approaches, most of us tend to favor one over the other.

As Kathryn talked about meditation and deep breathing, during lunch, I told her that I had tried meditation many years earlier, and on the whole, I’m more prone to trust data and science.

“But you do meditate,” she rejoined. “You just told us you go into the woods for a hike every week and you always come out energized. That’s meditation.”

She’s right of course, but I had just never thought of it that way. I select hiking routes where nature does its best work. I often go in with all sorts of issues on my mind and invariably emerge calmer and happier. I usually don’t work problems out on these treks but the clear my mind and seem easier to resolve later.

Still, I insisted, I still trust science and data, particularly when the issue is how to treat serious and hard-to-treat mental imbalances.

Kathryn added that both Eastern and Western philosophies are necessary “to more completely improve the human condition as either one alone is inadequate.”  It seems to me that the Apollo device not only converges features of both healthtech and medtech, it also converges Eastern and Western approaches to health and well-being.

In fact, science is what generates vibrations that closely resemble the vibes practitioners feel with Eastern meditation,  breathing and mind control exercises.

Safety First

David was raised traditionally, but he grew up aware of psychedelic drugs and the human brain.  As he studied at Albany Medical College to earn his medical doctorate (MD) and his doctoral degrees in neuroscience and neuropharmacology, he became interested in psychedelic medicines such as MDMA and psilocybin because of their profound implications as therapies for PTSD.

His research for the Apollo wearable encompassed about 2000 test subjects. The band is inspired by the principles of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, but it doesn’t use psychedelics in any way, David emphasized. The central concept is that the band is that users can exercise better control of their stress, allowing them to normalize behavior as they go about their lives and work.  For that to occur users must not only feel safe but be safe and actually taking psychedelics might result in something contrary to that.

Instead of feeling like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the Apollo vibrations actually calm patients through their sense of touch. “Touch is a well understood neural pathway for calm and safety.”

In my next issue, I will tell you about other medical devices using new technologies that also will make life better potentially for children with cognitive disorders using VR and a startup making sensitized inner soles to prevent injury in professional athletes.

Do you know a cool healthtech or medtech company? Tell me about them and if I write about them I’ll give you a free lifetime subscription to my already free ItSeemstoMe newsletter-blog. The lifetime I refer to is mine—not yours.

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