How an Israeli startup is using avatars to help people with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that affects millions of people around the world who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. PTSD can cause severe distress, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. While there are various treatments available for PTSD, such as psychotherapy and medication, they are not effective for everyone and may have unwanted side effects.

A new approach to PTSD treatment has been developed by an Israeli startup called GrayMatters Health, which uses avatars and neurofeedback to help patients retrain their brain and reduce their symptoms. The company’s technology, called Prism for PTSD, is based on the research of Prof. Talma Hendler, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who identified brain-mechanism-specific biomarkers for certain mental disorders. These biomarkers are patterns of brain activity that can be measured by combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG).

How an Israeli startup is using avatars to help people with PTSD
How an Israeli startup is using avatars to help people with PTSD

How Prism for PTSD works

Prism for PTSD is a self-guided neuromodulation therapy that targets a specific biomarker called amygdala-derived-EFP, which is involved in the fight or flight response and can be triggered frequently in people with PTSD. The therapy consists of 30-minute sessions, during which the patient wears an EEG cap and sits in front of a screen. The screen shows an animation of a reception room with agitated people, which represents the patient’s emotional state. The patient is instructed to find a mental strategy, such as thinking of a positive memory or focusing on a calming emotion, that will lower the value of the amygdala-derived-EFP biomarker. The system uses the patient’s EEG data to calculate the value of the biomarker and provide instant feedback. If the mental strategy works, the agitated people on the screen will start to sit down and relax. This way, the patient learns how to control their brain activity and reduce their stress level.

The benefits of Prism for PTSD

Prism for PTSD has several benefits over conventional treatments for PTSD. First, it is non-invasive and does not require any drugs or needles. Second, it is personalized and adaptive, as it allows each patient to find their own effective mental strategies and adjust the difficulty level according to their progress. Third, it is empowering and rewarding, as it gives the patient a sense of agency and achievement. Fourth, it is evidence-based and clinically proven, as it has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Israeli Ministry of Health as an adjunct therapy for PTSD. The FDA clearance was based on a study of 79 chronic PTSD patients, which showed a high rate of symptom improvement, a low rate of adverse events, and a low attrition rate. The company is also conducting further studies in Germany and the US to validate the technology and expand its indications.

A mission-driven startup

GrayMatters Health is a mission-driven startup that aims to improve the lives of people with mental disorders by providing them with innovative and accessible solutions. The company was founded in 2020 by Oded Kraft, Rani Cohen, and Prof. Hendler, who have backgrounds in neuroscience, engineering, and business. The company has won several awards and recognitions, such as the Prix Galien USA award for best startup and the EU Horizon 2020 grant. The company is also part of the Israel Innovation Authority’s Bio-Convergence Program, which supports the development of cutting-edge technologies that combine biology, engineering, and data science. The company’s vision is to create a platform that can address various mental disorders by using different biomarkers and neurofeedback protocols.

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