One of the most celebrated artists around the world is also famous for being a schizophrenic. Vincent Van Gogh cut his own ear off, eventually committing suicide in 1890. Yes, it’s a morbid subject, but mental illness has been getting more attention over the past few decades. Even a major celebrity such as Deepika Padukone spoke up about depression in a country that likes to stay hush-hush around mental illness. While acceptance around mental affliction has changed for the better, its diagnosis hasn’t changed at a similar pace, even though there are nearly seven million psychotic patients every year in India alone. Two women from Bengaluru are trying to change that.
Rimjhim Agrawal and Laina Emmanuel founded BrainSight in May 2019, a SaaS product to detect major psychotic disorders. After working on her PhD thesis about delayed diagnosis of psychological disorders, Agrawal started ideating on a solution that could rectify that. That's when she met Emmanuel at Entrepreneur First’s incubation programme. They built the tool that, according to the company, has 87% accuracy rate and works within five to seven minutes. Its software uses MRI scans but, instead of taking pictures, BrainSight tracks brain activity over several minutes and records the visual. “If a patient is suffering from psychosis, there is a lot of disconnect between different parts of the brain. You can trace that kind of activity pattern and get a differential diagnosis,” she explains but adds that it is just a confirmatory tool, not a screening one.
Currently, the product can read six critical disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer's dementia, frontotemporal dementia and schizoaffective disorder — all their symptoms are similar to each other. “Chances of misdiagnosis are very high in these cases. For instance, the manic phase of a bipolar patient is very similar to the psychosis phase of a schizophrenia patient. These come under the category of psychotic disorders,” says Agrawal.
The Dassault-accelerated start-up has won the BIRAC Big 15 grant and has raised a total funding of $120,000. It has partnered with Max Hospital in Delhi to start testing its product on a license-sharing basis from September onwards. Scanning and analysis cost about Rs.14,000, of which, the start-up earns between $28-40 per test (up to Rs. 2,800). The team is looking to test around 3,500 patients on a monthly basis, hoping to catch the disorders much before they start impairing people’s lives.