A high-tech startup that uses game-based interventions to help users identify real-time stress and anxiety-related events and receive a personalized intervention has won a federal grant to leverage its technology in part through research at the College of Engineering at the to develop Purdue University.
Jeffrey A. Cary, CEO of LifeSpan, said the company received a $255,409 one-year Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant program from the National Science Foundation. It will fund research led by Wenzhuo Wu, the Ravi and Eleanor Talwar Rising Star Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at the School of Industrial Engineering. Additional research is being conducted at George Mason University and the Virginia Serious Game Institute.
“Proceeds will prove or disprove the hypothesis that an interactive, game-based mental health intervention that uses autonomic biofeedback training will be an effective mental health and substance abuse intervention,” Cary said. “We will also demonstrate the effectiveness and applicability of Wu’s heart rate variability-based or HRV wearable device.”
Wu said LifeSpan’s intervention technology improves on traditional methods of identifying those in need of mental health services and delivering those services.
“Current methods of identifying and diagnosing mental disorders are often based on unreliable, retrospective self-reports that depend on high levels of client motivation and insight. Some apps subjectively assess stress and sleep issues without relying on physiological measurements,” Wu said.
“Furthermore, common forms of clinical or laboratory-based mental health assessment and treatment delivery are severely limited in scope and serve only a fraction of those in need. Electrocardiography and photoplethysmography, also known as EKG and PPG, are constrained by cost and energy consumption.”
According to Wu, video game-like technology has recently been developed to increase user interest and engagement in biofeedback and to facilitate learning of deep breathing techniques, relaxation and emotional self-regulation. Although there is not yet sufficient empirical evidence for the effectiveness of these new programs, it stands to reason that such technology could be useful, in part because children and young people are often avid video game users.
“School-age children in the United States spend an average of seven hours a week playing video games; High school and college students average about nine,” Wu said. “Given their prevalence in youth culture, video game-based programs can be entertaining and motivating media for treatments intended for children and adolescents.
“Video game technology has been used successfully to treat various childhood diseases such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and even post-traumatic stress disorder.”
LifeSpan’s technology will also use Wu’s wearable triboelectric device, which harvests operational energy from human motion. The device can detect even the slightest skin movement caused by the human pulse. It captures the cardiovascular information encoded in the pulse signals for high-fidelity monitoring.
“By using a combination of actively and passively collected in situ data, our technology platform will enable end users to understand connections between emotions, stressors and social interaction, and empower them to make lasting positive improvements in mental and physical health ‘ Wu said.
LifeSpan’s initial target audience is college students, with a focus on students in transition—high school to freshman year, elementary school to graduate school, and graduate school to employment—and those in marginalized and underserved communities. Cary said the company’s technology benefits many groups, including students and their parents.
“Students benefit from having a resource that is not subject to long waits at their schools’ Centers for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS),” said Cary. “Parents benefit from seeing their children graduate; According to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Health, 60 percent of students with mental health problems drop out of school.
“Society will benefit from developing a future workforce with higher levels of emotional intelligence and emotional self-regulation. CAPS centers benefit from a complementary resource that is evidence-based and always available. Healthcare systems benefit by reducing the number of mental health-related emergency room visits and healthcare costs for providers.”
Cary said the results of the Phase I research will be an end-to-end proof of concept, three published articles in peer-reviewed journals, and a presentation at a major conference in May 2023.
“These results will allow LifeSpan to attract venture capital and strategic industry partnerships, and we will seek subsequent Phase II and Phase III funding for Wu’s research,” he said.
Cary said that LifeSpan must secure external seed funding prior to the end of the Phase I funding timeframe in order to proceed with Phase II activities and pilot projects with select prospects.
“Additionally, we will be working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin the process of classifying our commercial platform as a prescription digital therapeutic, or PDT,” he said.
LifeSpan has an option agreement with the Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization to commercialize Wu’s intellectual property.