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“30% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s do not actually have Parkinson’s,” Eddy Benami, CTO, and co-Founder of Neuralight, emphasizes as we sit down and discuss the current shortcomings regarding medical diagnoses. “And it is similar statistics for other neurological diseases and let’s not even get started on what’s going on in psychology and psychiatry.”
Exploration Brings Innovation
Eddy began Neuralight with his co-founders about a year and a half ago, though his research for the venture began much earlier, sometime around the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Eddy, at home and bored in quarantine, like many of us, embraced the curious explorer side of his personality that he has always had and decided to begin scouring the web for information regarding different neurological disorders, diagnoses, and other related information. What he found was an interesting, fairly untouched, area of research concentrated on using quantified eye movements to diagnose neurological and psychological disorders. Once analyzed, the patterns of the movements could be used to help discern exact illnesses, degree of illness, or even susceptibility to a particular disorder.
“I was trying to make sense of all this information and see how I could make this into something, a business,” adds Eddy. The data, in and of itself, was interesting and with further investigation, Eddy found that current diagnosis procedures in neurology and psychology are, in many ways, outdated and too subjective to provide credible diagnoses. For example, doctors can often have people perform a test where the patient has to button their shirt and from there, they measure the person’s capabilities - based on a test with fairly subjective and uncontrolled factors. So, Eddy realized that the market was ripe for a solution.
“We Are Going to Change Neurology”
Eddy has no reservations when it comes to mentioning his goals for Neuralight. What he sees as a field of medicine stuck in procedures from 150 years ago is an opportunity to correct historical and present wrongs. “Physicians still look at a patient and use their intuition to figure out what’s wrong, what’s working, and what’s not,” Eddy adds, “and we are going to add some quantifiable data into that system.”
Imagine your grandma or grandpa or even someone closer to you, a parent or friend, going to the doctor for a neurological or psychological diagnosis. After all, these types of disorders can happen to anyone, at any time, and some of us, unfortunately, are even more susceptible to them. When they get to the doctor, the doctor has them perform some tests: subjective motor activity tests, or even uses a questionnaire based on a 1 to 5 scale to assess their mental status. “But what if they ask you to button your shirt and you actually use a zipper? Or how do you know what a 3 is or a 5? Maybe we look at it differently?
The glaring truth is that psychology and neurology, as advanced as modern medicine is, have yet to really adopt the necessary reforms when it comes to patient diagnosis. What does that mean? Well, there is no real objective standard for diagnosis and, often, that’s why diagnoses can require a second, third, or fourth opinion. Moreover, people can be diagnosed incorrectly, or diagnosed in a much more sweeping way. Eddy highlights that “for example, you might be diagnosed with ALS but there are many types of ALS which we do not fully understand so perhaps your ALS falls into one of those categories.”
Are Drugs the Answer?
As mentioned above, Eddy’s solution is based on analyzing patient eye movements. His long-term vision is to see his technology installed even in devices like your smartphone that could diagnose and assess treatment as you scroll through Instagram. At the moment, Eddy’s solution is not at that stage, but it is progressing. Where he hopes to gain traction is first with pharmaceutical and drug companies who are making the medicines people with these psychological and neurological conditions take.
“Everyone thinks of the drug companies as monsters, but in the end, they are the ones making the medicines for people to get better, they have an interest in having this data available and making drugs that work right for the people,” says Eddy. Eddy looks to ‘Big Pharma’ as a critical partner in his venture’s development even if his end goal is to reach the consumer level. Their access to large datasets and diverse populations makes them a key testing ground for Neuralight’s solution as they collect more precise and accurate neurological and psychological data. With this data, Eddy hopes drug companies will be able to manufacture better, more effective drugs and this will have some trickle-down effect - extending from the drug companies to the physicians who prescribe them, to the patient.
While only time will tell regarding Neuralight’s solution, Eddy is optimistic in his work. But he knows it will take time. “It is difficult for people to try something new, so it has to be new enough for them to be interested but not enough to be scared.”