My original intent in attending TransTech was to write up the talks; this proved to be a misunderstanding of what TransTech is. More than anything else, it is a vendor fair, with a mix of products looking for users and products looking for funding. This is not quite what I hoped for, and I feel reflects a general problem in America/capitalism/health care, which is looking for products you can buy to solve problems instead of public health type solutions or things you have to give up. But products are clearly what this conference was about, and I’m not going to get mad at it for being what it is. So in lieu of a science talk write up, please enjoy these descriptions of things I saw or tried in the vendor room.
Let’s be clear that this room was full of… let’s call it “speculative science.” I have two dilemmas around talking about the products. The obvious one is that I assume most of these are time wasters at best. Some of the science is atrocious, and much more is probably bullshit but I didn’t have time to investigate. Unfortunately, “time wasting woo bullshit” is where a lot of cool things start out, and if I dismiss everything out of hand I’ll lose the best things too. In a perfect world I would investigate the fundamental science of all of these and report on that, but I do not have that kind of time. So my choices are: report nothing or report everything and let G-d sort it out. Ultimately I think getting oxygen to the next good thing is more important than depriving all the bad things of oxygen, so I’m going to share.
If I don’t mention what a device claims to help, assume it is all of:
The theory: by shining photons onto the brain via the scalp and nasal passages, you can activate a photosensitive mitochondrial enzyme in cells in the brain, improving cognition.
On one hand, I would be extremely surprised if this worked. It requires a photosensitive enzyme in an area that shouldn’t receive light. On the other hand, they were the only booth to have reprints of scientific articles backing their proposed mechanism. Most booths didn’t even mention the mechanism, just the effects, and the effects are always the same (relaxation, improved sleep, decreased pain, improved concentration, improved mood).
Somehow the line for the nose lasers was very long and I didn’t get to try this one.
A VR display of your internal state (heart rate, respiration, etc. ), in the hopes of training you to notice signals of your internal state (collectively known an interoception). Better interoception could open all kinds of doors, and I have vague recollections of data that this approach is sound. But it’s not going to de-age you beyond what improving interoception works.
I tried this one and didn’t get anything out of it.
You’re hooked up to an EEG and headphones. When your brain waves exit a certain range, the system plays little blips in the music. This nudges your brain back to the desired range, even if you don’t know that’s what the blips mean. Their literature explained 0% of what they did or what the mechanistic goals were .
I definitely had a strong response to this. One layer of it was increased relaxation, but there was also a hard-to-describe fuzzy feeling.
A mask that blink lights and plays sounds to improve sleep (they also believe this could work for pain but are targeting sleep first). Planning FDA trials but haven’t actually done them yet.
The proposed mechanism is “something something neuroplasticity”.
This had a very mild effect on me, I was maybe I was more relaxed afterwords.
Kind of like a welding mask, but held further from your face. LEDs (red, blue, and infrared) litter the inside, and blink at you for thirty minutes. These are very bright lights- my eyes hurt a little even closed.
I wish I could quote the explanation directly, because any paraphrase introduces the possibility I’m exaggerating, and I am. This is exactly what they think it does:
- Send light to face
- Subatomic particles of energy are carried via the bloodstream and connective tissue to cells all over the body.
- This energy helps mitochondria, boosting ATP production and increasing their cleaning function.
- “Enhances” apoptosis. When I asked if she meant increased or decreased cell death, she clarified that she meant “enhanced” and explained what apoptosis meant.
Here are a few facts I know:
- The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. It is not involved in cellular cleanup
- Certain wavelengths of light on your skin definitely produces vitamin D. It probably does something else, because light therapy treats Seasonal Affective Disorder in a way straight vitamin D does not.
- Energy does not work that way.
Way to make the nose laser people look good.
Satisfyingly, this was the first/only product to do absolutely nothing for me. The most impressive thing about it is that I was able to lie there for half an hour with only small amounts of antsiness. Hypothesis: a large chunk of the effects of all of these machines come from providing the right level of sensory stimulus to keep people at a certain level of stimulation- not enough to overwhelm, but not so little your brain goes looking for more.
By far, Focus got closest to the maker vibe I wanted. They sell hardware that contains an EEG and is capable of a variety of outputs, including mild cranial electrical stimulation. The hardware has an API you can use to build other tools like the ones I’ve described here.
The downside of providing a platform not a product is that you don’t have a product to demo. But I like them and I want them to succeed. If this sounds awesome to you, they probably won’t mind you emailing me (elizabeth-at-this-domain) to get the conference discount code.