On Oct 18th at TedxSpringfield, alumnus Brian Mullen (B.S.M.E ’04, M.S.M.E. ’07, Ph.D. ’09) delivered a TEDx talk in which he shared his journey as an engineer entering the field of mental health and brain disorders to develop products to improve quality of life and enhance the quality of care for a variety of sufferers. View Mullen’s TEDx talk on You Tube. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation under the slogan "ideas worth spreading." TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that brings people together to share a TED-like experience. Mullen earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in our Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department.
Mullen founded Therapeutic Systems with Chris Leidel (B.S.M.E. ’04 and M.B.A. ISOM ’09) during his time as a graduate student based on his research with Professor Sundar Krishnamurty of the MIE department. Therapeutic Systems produces Vayu, a deep pressure vest made to help people with Autism, ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety based disorders.
Deep pressure is similar to swaddling a baby and is commonly used to help people with a wide variety of issues regulate their anxiety. Therapeutic Systems is currently based in Amherst and manufactures Vayu in Chicoppee, Mass. Mullen and Leidel got their first funding from winning the UMass Innovation Challenge and NCIIA. They also went on to win MassChallenge in 2011, the world’s largest accelerator and business plan competition. Vayu is currently on the market and being used at multiple schools and families. Therapeutic Systems is looking to grow and expand by raising the money to continue to achieve the goal of becoming one of the first evidence-based, insurance-reimbursed, medical devices for people with autism.
Therapeutic Systems’ journey was recently highlighted in an article in the January 31, 2012, issue of Medical Device + Diagnostic Industry magazine. According to that article, common treatments for autism include behavioral learning, occupational, physical, and speech-language therapies, as well as medications. But a dearth of medical devices aimed at treating the disorder has led parents of autistic children and people who fall on the autism spectrum themselves to create makeshift contraptions—from so-called squeeze machines to weighted blankets—to help them cope with sensory hypersensitivity, a symptom of the disorder.
While such inventions may provide relief for people with autism, they’re not reimbursable through Medicare or Medicaid and often aren’t covered by insurance.
“Our goal is to develop a reimbursable medical device, not a homemade solution,” Mullen explained in the Medical Device + Diagnostic Industry article. “I think [people with autism] deserve the same level of quality and safety as those with any other illness or diagnosis.”
Vayu is a vest that can be inflated with air to apply pressure to the body—a technique that has gained acceptance since autism advocate Temple Grandin, who has high-functioning autism, invented a squeeze machine to alleviate her sensory overload in the 1960s. Since then, occupational therapists have used other devices—neoprene wraps, weighted blankets, and weighted vests—to provide deep-pressure therapy to patients with autism.
Mullen said the Vayu improves upon those options in a number of ways. Weighted blankets don’t allow for a lot of activity, therapists must have weighted vests in various sizes to accommodate different patients, and none of those options can easily be customized to the wearer. The Vayu vest, on the other hand, is low profile enough to be worn under clothing, can be adjusted to fit patients of various sizes, and can be inflated or deflated depending upon the needs of a particular patient or situation. It also gives therapists the option to allow patients to adjust the pressure themselves, or the hand pump can be removed if a patient isn’t capable of doing so. (December 2013)