Happy, sad, down, surprised...your face tells others how you are feeling. The opposite is also true. The now-proven “facial feedback hypothesis” has taught us that your facial expression also affects your emotions. So, if we laugh, are we automatically more cheerful? And is this the case even if that laughter isn’t genuine or spontaneous, but instead, is activated externally and stimulated? “Yes and yes,” Mehrdad Seirafi claims wholeheartedly. Mehrdad is a physicist/neuroscientist and EmoSys entrepreneur who ended up in Maastricht by way of India, Japan, Rome and Brussels.
Mehrdad is on a mission. He is ambitious, and determined to get his invention launched on the market. For people suffering from mild to moderate depression, he has developed an accessible, easy-to-use alternative to the antidepressants currently being prescribed on a large scale. “We are working on a medical application that stimulates the ‘laugh muscle’ in the cheek using electrical impulses, transmitting positive emotions to the brain via the peripheral nervous system.” Anyone who applies the EmoSys patch to their cheek at night for three weeks will feel better, sleep well, and will suffer a lot less from the feared and hated “morning blues” when they get up in the morning. This extra boost will be able to help people escape from the negative spiral of depression, without antidepressants and without therapy. The patch will be available at drugstores all over the world, “particularly in India and China”. It will be sold without a prescription, without supplemental therapy, but will naturally come with clear instructions.
The global statistics on depression and its socio-economic consequences may be described as nothing short of shocking. No fewer than 600 million people suffer from depression. Depressed people rely on health care more often, are either incapable of working or cannot work at their normal capacity, commit suicide remarkably more frequently...each year, the costs of this illness amount to an incredible 80 billion dollars! And this doesn’t even include the cumulative effects of all this personal misery...
Yes, these are very shocking figures, but an entrepreneur who can develop an accessible alternative to antidepressants immediately sees the opportunities this offers. The resistance to the large-scale trend of prescribing and taking antidepressants is growing by the day. The media is full of reports on the ineffectiveness of antidepressants. All of this is music to Mehrdad’s ears. The time has come for an accessible alternative. The time has come for EmoSys’s solution!
A mere year and a half ago, he was working as a post-doctorate researcher at Maastricht University. These days, Mehrdad has an office in the Brains Unlimited building at the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus: EmoSys is on the sign on the door and on his business card. EmoSys is no longer just Mehrdad; there are now four employees brainstorming and working on completing the product. Two professors from Maastricht University - one specialized in psychiatry and the other in non-invasive brain stimulation - advise and assist him.
Every researcher who decides to become an entrepreneur ends up facing challenges outside of his or her field of expertise. Mehrdad assumed he would get far with online business training courses, but is now happy with the help he’s had from the experts at Brightlands: “Housing, financing, protecting intellectual property, making contacts within the network - working with them has made it all a lot easier and more pleasant. It’s ideal for us that all the facilities we need are right here on campus, within easy reach. We are going to use Scannexus’s advanced MRI scanners, and are also working with TMS Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and various laboratories. The Brightlands business developers make it easy for us to make connections. We are now also working with Mondriaan, a mental health care organisation in Limburg with 40 locations throughout the province. This is an important partner for us since many of their patients are in our target group.”
A one-page article in Dagblad De Limburger in the fall of 2016 generated a deluge of reactions. Professionals are extremely enthusiastic and interested. However, the most touching are the often long and very personal stories coming from people who are either suffering from depression or who have suffered in the past, and from people close to them. The letters and e-mails invariably end with a heartbreaking cry for help. Mehrdad has heard extremely sad stories from those in his immediate environment. He was already driven, but these cries for help only made him more determined to achieve his mission: his accessible solution for fighting depression just had to be launched on the market!2018 is the year it will all happen; this is when both the hardware and software will be ready. By then, the prototypes will be finished, the product will have the optimal design, and the instructions for use will have been perfected. The clinical tests that are already scheduled are expected to provide answers to two essential questions: is the product safe and does the product do what it promises? Mehrdad has been working for years to get to this point, and naturally counts on being able to answer this question in the affirmative: “Yes, it is safe” and “Yes, it helps.” Hello world! Here comes EmoSys! It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the foundation is already being laid for the follow-up to this product. Mehrdad: “Imagine that you can change your mood with a simple press of a button on your cell phone that is wirelessly connected to a device you wear...”This leaves us with just one last question: why the preference for China and India? “Because a much greater stigma is attached to depression there than in Europe or America, and because alternatives are not always accessible.”