Published on September 22nd, 2022 📆 | 7144 Views ⚑0
Former NASA Astrophysicist Creates MindMics Earbud Biometric Technology To Reduce Stress
Stress is part of almost everyone’s daily lives. Studies show that it not only affects a person’s mental health, it also takes a physical toll on the body, releasing inflammatory hormones that can increase cardiovascular and cancer risk, among other issues. It has economic consequences as well.
Stress results in “accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs” that cost the U.S. $300 billion every year, according to a recent report from the American Psychological Association.
Not surprisingly, fitness tracker wearable devices meant to help measure stress proxies like heart rate have created a global market valued at $45 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $192 billion by 2030, according to Straits Research. Yet most of the multi-billion dollar brands in the category from Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, Oura and others use light to look at the blood flow under the skin that provide a limited measurement of heart health and no measurement of other health indicators like brain activity.
MindMics hopes to disrupt the category with the introduction of its novel earbud biometric measurement technology called infrasonic hemodynography that provides measurement of heart, brain and other bodily function activity previously only available through costly MRI and ECG medical devices.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts based company was founded in 2018 by former astrophysicist Dr. Anna Barnacka, who as a NASA Einstein Fellow at Harvard, embarked on a mission to better measure and manage her stress that was impacting her work and causing debilitating back pain. This founders’s journey story is based on my interview with Barnacka.
“I've always worked extremely hard to be where I am, basically night and day for many, many years. And if you work very hard for very long, then, then sooner or later, you will face burnout. But slowing down was not an option, because I just moved to the U.S. with so many opportunities that allowed me to work on incredible topics and research. So I thought, ‘Okay, if you, as a scientist, learn to use the technology and science to solve problems, what if I could have a dashboard tool to monitor my brain and cardiac health,” says Barnacka.
She had reached a tipping point when the stress of work led to lower back pain that limited her ability to work or do the kinds of physical activity like Yoga that would help her deal with the stress. “I started looking at all the wearable devices that I could put my hands on, but none of them have the data quality or insights that could be really used as a dashboard,” says Barnacka. For someone who was studying precise information about the universe, this was not sufficient. So she tried EEG devices as well, but they were large and cumbersome.
“We have technology to detect tiny changes of space time that gravitational waves are producing so we should be able to monitor our health more precisely and with more comfort. So this is where I said, ‘Okay, let's use that science and let's use that knowledge and figure it out’,” says Barnacka.
That led her to the insight that the auditory canal could be the gateway to measure a full range of bodily functions and the fact that people were already used to wearing earbud devices. Why not create an earbud technology that would provide the data for the biometric dashboard she was looking for to solve her own stress issues? She then left the world of measuring the cosmos to measuring the inner universe and put together a team of technologists to create the software and hardware to accomplish her goal.
Her small team then built a prototype that she could show to potential investors and to attract new employees to MindMics. Barnacka then embarked on the process of proving the efficacy of the technology through clinical studies through Scripts Health and others. The results of the studies were then published in prestigious professional publications like the American Heart Association Circulation Journal.
As an example of one of these published studies, the AHA Circulation Journal reported: “The cardiovascular (CV) system produces low frequency, ‘infrasonic’, auditory vibrations during the cardiac cycle. Herein, we report the first-in-person validation of a novel earbud sensor to capture CV time intervals and the feasibility of non-invasive infrasonic hemodynography (IH) using the MindMics ® wireless earbuds for long term in-ear CV monitoring.”
While MindMics continues to develop the technology and conduct further studies, it still needs to pass FDA approval before it is commercially available. According Barnacka, she expects to receive that approval sometime in the first quarter of 2023.
Once MindMics come to market, is Barnacka concerned that a company like Apple could co-opt the technology and crush the business before it has a chance to grow? “We always have to be concerned that it would survive, and I definitely have that mindset. But we don't want to be another earbud brand. We want to focus on our algorithms and our cloud that allows us to analyse every single heartbeat, and we want to partner with all the earbud brands to enable our technology on their earbuds and open our APIs to other apps as well,” says Barnacka.
Barnacka’s journey to becoming an entrepreneur and CEO is anything but typical. She was born in Poland just as the country was experiencing the upheaval from the transition from communist party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system. “I was in that transition growing up at that time and Poland was completely transforming. I would say everybody was becoming an entrepreneur from the perspective of creating something from nothing, because you don't have much resources and you have no choice but to work hard,” says Barnack
She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at Pedagogical University of Cracow where she fell in love with astrophysics and astronomy, while also working as a project manager at a software company to sustain her education. She then pursued her PhD at the Paris-Sud University in Paris and another PhD degree from Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center in Warsaw, Poland. “And from there, after my PhD, I was applying for a postdoc, and I had the opportunity to continue my research at at Harvard’s Centre for Smithsonian Centre for astrophysics,” says Barnack.
She then moved to the U.S. and while in doing her postdoctoral research, she applied for and received the prestigious Einstein Fellow, working on black holes. “This is where during the nights I started studying neuroscience and also medical devices and started thinking about the idea of how we can monitor our health,” says Barnack. Among her many accomplishments, she also managed to become a Veritus Fellow working on ideas on how to resolve the high-energy universe by observing an array of Cherenkov telescopes, an assistant professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and a patron of the arts through her work as the Chief Science Officer of the Multiverse, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for science and music alike.
As for the future? Whether or not MindMics will succeed and fulfill Barnack’s mission to provide everyone with the dashboard to measure and act on their biometric information remains to be seen. But as the clinal studies show, MindMics novel earbud technology has the potential to provide an affordable and meaningful way to better measure and improve our health and reduce stress.