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Attracted to the brain's mysteriousness

September 12, 2012

Carleton PhD-turned-entrepreneur uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to treat depression and other brain disorders
Dr. Mehran Talebinejad is a biomedical engineer whose fascination with the brain has led him to a research career – and now a business – in noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical, stimulation-based therapy for depression, Alzheimer's and more.

Dr. Mehran Talebinejad is not the type of doctor you'd expect to be poking around in brains. He's not a medical doctor, although he does have a background in neuroscience. He's not a psychiatrist or a doctor of psychology, even though he is interested in treating psychiatric and neurological disorders. Dr. Talebinejad is a biomedical engineer whose fascination with the brain has led him to a research career – and now a business – in noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical, stimulation-based therapy for depression, Alzheimer's and more.

“The brain is so mysterious,” said Dr. Talebinejad. "Brain stimulation can be considered an edgy area of biomedical engineering research, but there are so many important questions about psychiatry, neuroscience and philosophy that might be answered with its help. It is highly complex and challenging work, but with great potential for socioeconomic impact."

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a method of delivering magnetic pulses to specific regions of the brain such as regions involved in mood control and depression in order to stimulate those nerve cells. Unlike its pharmaceutical counterpart, TMS has been clinically shown to help cure depression with minimal side effects and a high success rate. The treatment also shows rapid results, unlike the slow, labour intensive psychotherapy route. However, because of the treatment's high cost per patient, it is not commonly administered.

Dr. Talebinejad and his team have designed a disruptive technology that reduces the TMS treatment cost per patient more than 75%. The semiconductor switching technique developed by Dr. Talebinejad’s company NeuroQore significantly increases the life span of its machine, spreading out the cost of the technology over more years and more patients, which drops the cost per patient.

A recent post-doctoral graduate of McGill University, Dr. Talebinejad – now a Research Associate at Carleton University – has started to earn a reputation as a noteworthy young entrepreneur in the Ottawa area. He’s given talks to organizations about entrepreneurship for engineers and received a number of grants, including a $25,000 grant through the Ottawa Young Entrepreneurs (OYE), an initiative supported by Ontario Centres of Excellence’s (OCE’s) Experiential Learning Program.

OCE's ELP program was designed to help students across Ontario with a variety of educational backgrounds get the training and experience they need to turn their ideas into market-ready products and jobs. Working through academic institutions with programs for young entrepreneurs/students (such as OYE), ELP links postsecondary students and recent graduates to industry, leading to new innovations and start-up companies.

“Starting a company is a challenging task and money, mentors, and a network are crucial,” said Dr. Talebinejad. “The Experiential Learning Program has been indispensable because it’s provided us with mentoring, guidance and support while connecting us to a whole network of other connected people. We’ve also received ELP funding via the Ottawa Young Entrepreneurs and now through OCE’s Market Readiness program as well – which we wouldn’t have achieved if we hadn’t been involved with ELP.”

NeuroQore is currently conducting a pilot study at the Royal Ottawa Hospital that shows its patent-pending technology is outperforming the existing TMS technology. The company plans to spread the results and proof-points to all the research centres worldwide and carry on further clinical research for therapeutic indications, starting with depression and Alzheimer’s.

“Ultimately, we want to become the standard of care for non-pharmaceutical treatment of brain disorders,” said Dr. Talebinejad. “Our goal is to improve clinical efficacy and reduce the cost per patient. And, above all, we really want to help patients who are suffering from psychiatric and neurological disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s.”