Mayfield partner Ursheet Parikh thinks the future of treating mental health, America’s ‘hidden epidemic,’ could come from massive breakthroughs in 2021.
The past year has taken a toll on Americans’ mental health.
Even with startups taking novel approaches to what Mayfield partner Ursheet Parikh calls the “hidden epidemic,” he thinks more can be done.
“COVID pretty much created a silent epidemic of sorts, a hidden epidemic, around brain health and mental health,” Parikh said. “We think brain health will drive as much, if not more, of healthcare cost in coming years.”
The key lies in treatment advances, Parikh told Business Insider. While talk therapy and medication can be helpful for some, he believes there are other, more effective ways of treating mental health conditions using cutting-edge technology that can speak to and work with the brain’s natural capabilities rather than medications given in pill form.
Technology that works directly with the brain is particularly promising, Parikh said. The brain’s anatomy means that drugs already have to work extra hard to be effective and breach the blood-brain barrier. Parikh thinks the future is in working smarter, not harder.
“There has been a lot of work done in understanding the brain outside the drug cycle,” Parikh told Business Insider. “I think what will happen is, we will start seeing solutions that talk to the brain and activate parts of the brain to fight disease.”
Right now, many companies are “listening” to the brain, Parikh said, where it records and processes electrical signals during a particular task. He pointed to companies like Akili Labs, which makes a video game to treat children experiencing ADHD, as promising steps forward in creating data to prove such a solution can work at scale.
However, his long-term vision is a company that uses electricity to talk to the brain instead of just listening to it, essentially working with humans’ most powerful organ to solve the body’s problems. But first, the unconventional approach needs proof that it works.
“For a medical practice to evolve, we need entrepreneurs to create real medical data,” Parikh said. “It starts sounding hard to believe that you put something on your skin to activate the brain to fight disease [without data].”
In the next nine months, Parikh predicts three or four startups will announce initiatives to publish data and show how effective this line of treatment can be in a wide range of mental health conditions.
— Megan Hernbroth