FitTech Insider

Cognitive Gyms for the Mind 3: How can a wearable reduce stress and improve physical performance, Miguel López?

XANA Smart Neurostimulation is a Swiss-Spanish neurotechnological company. They are developing the world’s first non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator as a wearable in-ear device, helping with stress reduction as well as physical and cognitive enhancement.


Name: Xana Smart Neurostimulation / Epalinges, Vaud, Switzerland / Founded in 2016
Founders: Miguel López (CEO), Iñaki Larraya (CTO), Pedro Bermejo (Chief Medical Officer)
Website: waldenmedical.com
LinkedIn: company/walden-medical-neuro-digital-therapies

Numbers:  The startup has raised a total of €1.1 million in funding over 2 seed rounds and 1 pre-seed round. They closed their last financing round of €420,000 in funds in May 2021.

Target group: Two sectors — the wellness and sports industry, where our technology can be used for improving physical performance in healthy people. Their first target audience is professional and amateur athletes, so they are targeting sports clubs and sports teams by offering better stress management, and help improve cognitive performance. For athletes, XANA could offer a clear competitive advantage by becoming part of their daily practice. Then, there is the medical industry with those suffering from pathologies including neurological, psychiatric, and cardiological diseases.

Problem: There is a global stress epidemic, especially following Covid-19. Stress is up 67% globally, a survey shows. In the UK and Europe, nearly two-thirds (64%) of workers said work-related stress levels had increased compared with pre-pandemic levels. It costs the economy €300 billion per year. Exposure to stress is linked to illnesses and disorders. However, current treatment options for stress are limited in their efficacy and there is no specific pharmaceutical treatment. Using anxiety disorder treatments can have severe side effects after prolonged use. Meanwhile, techniques like mindfulness and psychotherapy require regular practice, long-term commitment and can be expensive.

XANA is a wireless earbud that stimulates the auricular branch of the vagus nerve to reduce stress with personalized treatments. It comprising of a miniaturized and wireless earbud, mobile app and AI cloud system. (Source: Walden Medical)

Provided solution: Regardless of external triggers, what brings on the experience of stress is a personal response to those triggers. This response can be modulated via the Vagus Nerve — the connecting link between mental and physical health. It is the longest branching nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system that connects most of the major organs between the brain, heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It regulates all internal organ functions and is essential for the recovery and balance of mind and body. It is also a nerve pathway whose activation reduces inflammatory processes, as well as improves cardiac recovery after intense exercise.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has demonstrated its efficacy and safety in treating pathologies using non-invasive neurostimulation techniques for the Central Nervous system. But it is not easily accessible. So after many years of researching brain mechanisms in stress-associated disorders, the company is developing a fast-track solution that democratizes neurostimulation. XANA has a European patent and is being manufactured under the highest medical standards and with a level of Swiss medical technology.

XANA is a wireless earbud that stimulates the auricular branch of the vagus nerve to reduce stress in a safer and more immediate way and improve physical and cognitive performance. The system is composed of:
  • Miniaturized and wireless earbud – It includes two big size electrodes for stimulation and one biosensor for data collection. It is customized to your ear anatomy to get the best efficiency, accuracy, usability, and comfortability. The wearable is an integrated device that allows vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) treatment and the monitorization of key physiological indicators. It has an ear-embedded Heart Rate Monitor that is able to calculate HRV (heart rate variability), an index of the vagal tone which can be checked on the accompanying smartphone app. 
  • The device is connected to a mobile application – It manages and controls stimulation patterns, daily dose, charge, and intensity. It tracks and shows the performance and benefits of your HRV. The system can monitor stress levels for each individual, as well as the impact of neuro-stimulation during  vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) treatment.
  • The AI System in the Cloud stores all your data to offer personalized treatments according to your needs and activity, and to ensure its efficacy. It can work in tandem with third parties like a therapist, coach or trainer. 

Whereas the method of treatment through a headset has already proven its functionality in other types of applications, those products require four hours of use at least. XANA has been designed to be efficient and effective, with treatments lasting up to 20 minutes. Its success can be measured by its impact on cognitive function, as it increases your selective attention processes and reduces reaction time to external demands.

Challenges: XANA want to ensure the efficacy of the product before it goes out to market, so in 2021 they have been carrying out clinical validation and efficacy studies in a real environment with Real Sporting de Gijón football players. In 2022, they will work with cyclists from the UAE Team Emirates, the 2020 Tour de France winning team, and MotoGP riders. XANA will be seeking another €2.3 million in August 2022 and aim to launch on the market in September 2022. 

Market trends: Competitors in health tech, medical devices, and wearables include TouchPoint Solutions, Ybrain, Headsafe, NeuroPrex, Lief Therapeutics. The global neurostimulation devices market to reach $18 million by 2030 — spurred by the growing incidence of neurological disorders, increased side-effects of pain management medications in the geriatric population, and limited success rate of drugs, amongst other factors.

The wearables market (including hearable and watches) is booming and will reach a projected $74.03 billion by 2026. The Covid-19 pandemic had an influence on growth with more adopters, led by the fitness monitors segment. In 2020, the market reached over $25 billion and global shipments rose to 396.0 million units — a 14.5% increase from 2019. The sector is expected to grow by over 22% in the coming year.
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