February 20, 2018
The co-founders of Evoke Neuroscience, James Thompson, PhD, David Hagedorn, PhD and Nicole Hagedorn (MD) are making it simpler for people to get information about their brain function and to use it to proactively improve their health.
Evoke is developing new ways to help people improve their own brain health through the distribution of its first two products: The eVox System and The Waveband. The eVox System is a Class II medical device that has received Section 510(K) clearance from the FDA. It is intended for the acquisition, display, and storage, of electrical activity of a patient’s brain to aid in diagnosis. EVox allows doctors to measure and optimally manage patients with memory loss, cognitive impairment, and stress-related conditions. It facilitates early detection of the causes of cognitive impairment, leading to early intervention and the potential for positive outcomes. The Evoke Waveband, an app-powered heart rate variability (HRV) training tool, improves overall heart health and improves resilience to everyday physical and mental stressors. By synchronizing brain and heart function, the Evoke Waveband can improve physical and mental performance and fight stress from the inside out by training nervous system balance. Together the eVox and Waveband are powerful tools to help individuals recognize their current health situation and provide ways to easily take control and improve it.
The company’s marketing arm is in California, accounting is in North Carolina, and operations and engineering are right here at 11 West 25th Street. We spoke with Dr. Thompson at his West 25th Street office, and we think his unwavering passion for improving the current healthcare climate, coupled with his charismatic personality come through in what he had to say to us.
Kew Management: What is the mission of Evoke Neuroscience?
James Thompson: Our mission is to allow everyone to get really important information about their brain health and function. We want people to get access early and test often so they can optimize brain health throughout their lifespan. Currently, people only get access to information about their brain function when it’s too late; when they’re showing real symptoms.
KM: How do you feel your background benefits the work that you do today?
JT: My background is in both clinical work and research in brain function and electrophysiology, which is the study of neuron function. I have a PhD in that area, and I have a lot of clinical experience working with patients and research experience doing a deeper dive into this field of study. My primary focus had been on head injuries and concussions. These have obvious effects on all areas of brain function, including attention, memory and mood.
KM: How was Evoke Founded?
JT: Dr. Hagedorn and I had met in 2005 at a lecture I was giving. We realized we had a lot of common interests. We were both interested in head injuries and electrophysiology. Over a four- to five-year period we stayed in contact about the information, cases, and research we were working on. Ultimately, we decided that the information was very helpful from a clinical standpoint, but very difficult for doctors on the front line to obtain and to understand. We kept saying, “there must be a better way to collect, analyze, and interpret the data.”
In 2009, Dave called me and he said “I’m going to start a company that’s going to do this and make it really simple for the general public and all practitioners to get this information about their brain function and health. I’m starting this company.” I was very happy for him to do this and replied, “that’s great, I’m glad someone I trust is going to do this!” He said, “Well I’m not going to do it alone. You own half the company, and you owe me a few bucks for the registration.” And that was it.
The two of us worked together on product concepts and prototypes for a couple of years during evenings and weekends, me from New York and Dave from North Carolina, while continuing with our other jobs. Then, in 2011 we got a little seed capital, which allowed us to hire our first engineer to start writing the code. Previously, we were outsourcing the work and didn’t have anyone in house. The financial infusion allowed us to write code for data analysis instead of doing this by hand. In 2012, we got a little more funding from an angel investor, hired a few more staff members to write additional code, outsourced the production of a hardware system (which we’d written multiple patents around), and launched our first product in 2013.
The original product was software that collected data from the outsourced third-party piece of hardware. Then, in 2015, we produced our own proprietary hardware, paired it with our proprietary data collection software and the data analytics packages we had created, and released the eVox System. EVox hardware is paired with our brain and cardiac-acquisition software running on a laptop, collects all the data, and then uploads it through our HIPAA-compliant web portals to our secure servers. That is where we do all our analysis and then provide doctors web access to download completed reports.
KM: What measures do you use to test brain function?
JT: We use something called the electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures brain neuron function, the electrical activity in the brain, in real time. We look at brain processing speed by providing stimuli to patients and measuring the brain’s reaction time. We see how well the brain is processing information. We also use an electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a measure of heart function, to look at the overall heart health as well as nervous system function and balance.
KM: What is the next step to negative results of brain function?
JT: If you have areas that are outside normal limits or that have changed from your baseline, then those are identified in the report. Doctors can then individualize treatment and interventions specifically to those areas. One intervention that Evoke provides through its software offering is biofeedback for both brain and heart. For nervous system balance, you would do heart rate variability training. For brain function improvement, you would target normalizing those brain patterns through something called EEG bio-feedback, also known as neuro-feedback to normalize neuron firing patterns.
KM: How are these products marketed to the general public?
JT: Down the road we may introduce products for and market directly to individual laypeople, but currently we only market and sell to physicians. We sell our eVox system to physicians either in large group practices or individual practitioners who see many different types of brain-related disorders on a daily basis — whether it’s Alzheimer’s, dementia, early stages of memory loss, stress-related disease, motor vehicle accidents, or depression and fatigue.
KM: Do you have any major health care partnerships?
JT: We have some partnerships with the military. They’re using the eVox system to help soldiers with blast injuries and related cognitive traumas. We also partner with distributor groups who have fully vetted our technologies and want to include it in their medical device offerings.
KM: Do you believe that mental illness is increasing or are we just recognizing it more than we used to?
JT: We are recognizing it more often, definitely, and we are talking about it more. Nevertheless, there are more things in our environment that can contribute to this, whether its toxins in the environment or pollution. Our world is increasingly filled with all this processed food, cell phones, Wi-Fi, cell towers, and so on. Radio waves are flowing through us all the time, and we don’t know what they do. Additionally, we have more stress in our daily lives than ever before. Stress is linked to the top six causes of death today. For example, heart disease, cancer, suicide and accidents are stress-related, and 75% of all physician visits are for stress-related ailments. Those are huge numbers!
Going back to the purely psychological aspects, we have to ask: What is social media doing to us? Are people feeling that they need to keep up with that? Are they seeing just the bright side of everyone else’s life? Are they thinking: “There must be something wonderful that others are getting in that phone call or that text message. How come I’m not like that?” What is that doing to our happiness or our release of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine: our reward system? That’s going to be having negative consequences on our bio-chemistry, and we don’t know what the long-term effects of this will be.
KM: What do you believe the future holds for neuroscience?
JT: I think that what it’s going to allow us to do is get to a stage where medicine will likely be more proactive rather than reactive. We’re going to be putting the patient’s health into the hands of the patient. It’s going to allow people to understand the state of their mental functioning and where they’re going. So at the earliest stages armed with the information they are given, they have the opportunity to make a shift that will optimize their health and functionality throughout their lifespan, as opposed to finding out too late that there’s something they could have done to change the state of their health.
KM: Do you have any ideas on future products?
JT: Yes, we want to expand the utility. We have not released the Wave headset, so we want to release that. The Wave headset provides less channels of brain measurement, but it gives us very good information about important parts of brain function and heart function, while being portable and very easy to use. It can be used in clinics, at schools and for remote or home training, because it’s in the form of headphones.
We started out by saying our mission is to optimize brain health and function for everybody. Right now, we’ve only been able to capture the people who are seeking it through their doctors. We want people to be able to get it at all levels.
KM: How will this change the way individuals view neuroscience?
JT: Not everybody’s going to take advantage of this, but we want it to be accessible to everyone. Just like we now have people doing simple things like weighing themselves and understanding that there is a correlation between being overweight and diseases like diabetes. This is a well-known fact and because of the accessibility of scales and the information people can be proactive in improving their long-term health. However, not everybody takes advantage of the science, but at least it’s a tool that’s accessible to everyone, and they can measure and manage stress and optimize brain health and function.
I think the future of medicine is having consumers understand the benefits of monitoring day-to-day status and how things affect mental health. Individuals can make lifestyle choices early and work to improve their health throughout their lives. So, as we live longer, our brains are going to be able to keep up with our bodies.
KM: What advice would you give to somebody that is interested in working in your field?
JT: Well that is a tough one. My advice is that it’s a really interesting field. It’s in its infancy so there is a lot of great work being done, but there is a lot of noise (ideas and products being put forth for profit without a good deal of thought). My advice would be to work in earnest to filter through the noise and to figure out exactly what you want to do in this space. Is it research based? Is it medical? Is it working within the confines of the current American medical system or is it consumer based? That’s going to drive a lot of decisions you have to make.