Minneapolis-based HabitAware Inc., maker of the wrist-worn Keen smart awareness tracker designed to “retrain your brain” from subconscious behaviors like hair pulling, announced Thursday it was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.
The research grant money, sourced from the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR), will enable the startup to further develop and test their flagship device as a treatment option for trichotillomania, the disorder affiliated with hair pulling and other impulse control issues, including nail biting, skin picking and thumb sucking.
"We are grateful for this opportunity to make a tremendous contribution to trichotillomania treatment and the mental health community," said Sameer Kumar, CEO of HabitAware, in a statement.
Kumar founded HabitAware with his wife Aneela Idnani Kumar in 2015, after prototypes they created helped Aneela with her own trichotillomania. That success inspired them to want to use the tech to help others.
HabitAware’s put its Keen device on the market last year for between $149 and $179. Both kids and adults sizes were made available.
The company’s bracelet device uses patented gesture detection technology to target micro-gestures, such as the movement of a user’s hand to their scalp or eyebrows. When triggered, Keen vibrates to alert the user and ultimately deter nervous ticks.
Trichotillomania impairs social, physical and mental well-being, and often goes undiagnosed. Up to 3 percent of the population is said to suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors. When it is detected, there’s limited treatment options, and Aneela Kumar said sufferers often hide their symptoms in shame and fear of judgement.
Through a study funded by the grant award, HabitAware will evaluate the feasibility of Keen as an official treatment for trichotillomania. Simultaneously, Keen will be further developed into a tool for self-administration of Habit Reversal Training (HRT), one of few verified treatments currently in existence.
The research will be conducted in collaboration between HabitAware and Doctor Douglas Woods, a faculty member of the Marquette University Psychology Department, a leading researcher in the field of trichotillomania, and Scientific Advisory Board member of the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
"Keen has great potential to improve trichotillomania outcomes and we are looking forward to collaborating to determine the effectiveness of Keen as a treatment for trichotillomania and other body focused repetitive behaviors," said Woods in prepared remarks.
HabitAware was aided in the grant proposal process by the MN SBIR program at the Minnesota High Tech Association.