Frosh startup takes on chronic pain, stress with a hat

Jan. 9, 2023, 5:58 p.m.

For the last five years, Nadia Ansari ’26 spent every day of her life in chronic pain. 

Diagnosed in 2017 with an autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Nadia’s immune system was constantly warring with her nervous system, causing persistent pain in her entire body. 

After traditional treatments, ranging from pharmaceuticals to acupuncture, failed, Nadia and her little brother, Kamran, decided to take matters in their own hands. One of the therapies Nadia experimented with was pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, which was the only one that successfully mitigated her pain. 

Kamran, seeing his sister’s pain, “spent every day for a year and a half” adapting the pulsed electromagnetic field therapy device, which was a plastic oval placed on the body, into a wearable accessory. 

From there, FluxWear was born — a hat that Nadia said quickly numbs her chronic pain by sending electromagnetic pulses throughout the body. Unlike other treatments Nadia tried, this was easy to use, convenient for any situation and subtle enough to be worn in public.

Since then, FluxWear has expanded from just the two Ansari siblings to include an advisory board of doctors that support and assist product development. In September, FluxWear finalized their current version of the hat and recently launched commercial sales from their website. 

The technology, which originally was implemented in a pair of shoes, has undergone many changes since the initial prototype. Since chronic pain is centrally controlled through the brain, the siblings decided that a hat would be more effective. 

One of the many benefits of the hat is that unlike other treatments, which can only be performed during the hours of a clinic’s operation, the hat can be used at any time. According to Nadia, the first time she tried it was late at night, after her usual clinic had closed.

“I was just in so much pain and [Kamran] brought out this prototype and he’s like ‘do you want to try it?’” said Nadia, who is the COO of the company. “I tried it for about 25 minutes and it was crazy. I could sit there watching TV and my pain went from a nine to a three.”

Beyond chronic pain, FluxWear can be used to alleviate stress and anxiety. According to Kamran, a lot of the neural circuits that are associated with chronic pain are also associated with anxiety, which makes FluxWear easily adaptable to treat stress and anxiety. 

The FluxWear team is currently working on a study to test this and so far, 70% of their study participants have reported a decrease in stress and anxiety, according to Nadia. 

“We hope that it helps people who have pain [and] people who have stress or anxiety, so we’re trying to do as many research studies as we can,” Nadia said. “Eventually, we want it to be where someone can just get this prescribed to them and insurance covers it.”

However, the process of building the hat was not easy. With the pandemic, the siblings faced production shortages, as well as corporate investors that refused to take them seriously because of their age. The entire company was funded through bootstrapping. According to Kamran, these challenges were difficult to overcome but made the finished process so much sweeter.

“I envision how things should be,” said Kamran, who is currently a junior in high school. “It should be comfortable; it should be in a hat; it should be easy to use; it should just be one button. I love getting to envision how the world should be and then working every day to make it that way.”

According to Khizer Khaderi, a professor of ophthalmology and the director of the Stanford Human Perception Laboratory, the technology is “very promising” but the research studies are crucial to knowing definitively whether FluxWear can be “considered a therapeutic.”

“When I tried it, I was half expecting it not to work or for it to be kind of like a psychosomatic response,” Khaderi said. “But what was really interesting is, I did actually come out with a feeling of calm. That’s when I was like, ‘hey, there’s something here.’ This is a hat but this can neuromodulate me and help me feel better and all I’m doing is wearing a hat.”

Khaderi has been following the evolution of FluxWear since its conception.

“The reason I was interested in what they were doing was because I was already aware of transcranial magnetic stimulation and what I found interesting was their approach to it,” Khaderi said. “Being able to do things that are a little bit more alternative that are just as effective, or even more so, is truly inspiring. What does amaze me is how they are doing this at such an early age.”

Lauren is a staff writer for the sports section. You can contact her at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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