BC151. Dr. Dan Chao – CEO, Halo Neuroscience

This week, Brian interviews Dr. Dan Chao, co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience. Their first product, the Halo Sport, is the first neurostimulation system built specifically to accelerate movement based training with applications in sports, military, musicianship and stroke rehab.


You will learn…

  • Why wearing Halo Neuroscience Headphones will help you reach your potential
  • The science behind visualization and why it works
  • How Halo Neuro helped collegiate athletes increase their lower body strength by 12% in 2 weeks


Follow Halo Neuroscience on Twitter @HaloNeuro


Visit Their Website www.haloneuro.com




What this technology does is a 20-minute application of this electrical wave form that will induce a temporary state of what neuroscientists call hyperplasticity, or for this conversation we can think of it as hyperlearning.


Cain:  Hey, how are you doing?  Brian Cain, your Peak Performance coach, here with the Peak Performance Podcast.  Welcome, Inner Circle members.  Today you’re going to get to interact with our guest.  Dr. Daniel Chao is a neuro-tech entrepreneur specializing in devices that improve brain performance.  He’s the co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience.  The company’s first product:  Halo Sport.


Chao:  There it is.


Cain:  The first neurostimulation system built specifically to accelerate movement-based training with applications in sports, military, musicianship, and stroke rehab.  Before Halo, Dr. Chao was the head of business development at NeuroPace, where he played a central role in the development of the world’s neurostimulation system that was approved by the FDA for the treatment of epilepsy.


Prior to NeuroPace, Dr. Chao was a consultant at McKinsey & Company and earned his M.D. and M.S. in Neuroscience from Stanford University.  Today we’re going to learn about how Halo Sport is changing the game in terms of strength development, fine motor skill development, and acceleration in athletes across all sports.  Please welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast Dr. Daniel Chao.  I’m glad you’re here.


Chao:  Thanks for the opportunity.  And please call me Dan.


Cain:  Dan, thanks for being here.  If you would, could you kind of give us your background for the coaches and athletes that are listening to this podcast and kind of your background and how you got into Halo Neuroscience and the Halo Sport product.


Chao:  Like you mentioned – and thanks for that awesome introduction.  I’m a medical doctor by training.  I went to Stanford for medical school.  Master’s in Neuroscience from Stanford as well.  I still remember that day I was sitting in pharmacology class where we’re marching through the different classes of drugs, and it didn’t take long for me to realize the miracle of modern medicine was really around drug development.  These days we don’t even think about our foot infection.  What would have killed us 100 years ago we don’t even think about.  We just take a little pill and the infection is gone.  Same thing with blood pressure control, cholesterol – you take a little pill, you get better, you live longer.  It’s amazing.


But then when you think about drugs for the brain – when we got to that part of the class, the wheels fell off.  It’s like a drug for the brain, when you look at the list of side effects, often it’s worse than the disease.  When you take a step back, it kind of makes sense.  We take this little pill, it goes into your gut, gets into your blood, goes all over your body unnecessarily.  This little drug needs to pass this thing called the “blood brain barrier” (that’s a very hard word to say five times fast).  It’s this filter that protects the brain.  Basically, the things that make it into the brain are a very privileged part of the circulation, which makes sense as the brain is so important.  So only a small amount of drug makes it through this barrier.  What does make it through the barrier goes all over the place as well.  It didn’t take me long to realize there’s got to be just this hunger to think through how can we do this better.


Sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley where there is tech development all around us, it didn’t take me – I just started to think what if we applied electricity to the brain?  I know it might sound crazy because this country has had kind of a storied history around using electricity with the brain with ECT and these kinds of things, but if you give me some latitude for a second, the brain is this electrical organ.  If we used electricity as medicine, we’d actually speak its language in a far more organic way and interact with the brain and retune it first to treat disease, and also to think about human performance and what we could do from this perspective.


So what started as an idea in medical school led to my first company you mentioned, NeuroPace.  There we created, it’s like a pacemaker for the brain to help people with epilepsy.  Epilepsy is this disease of seizures where drug therapy has really failed this population of people very sadly.  The drugs for epilepsy just don’t work very well.  And here we come along with a solution that uses electricity to interact with the brain.  A significant minority of our patients are effectively cured of their disease and the vast majority are responders.  So we’re really happy with that result.


But there was one thing that we wanted to course correct with NeuroPace, that the NeuroPace device was implanted.  So we’re talking about a three-hour surgery that involves them planting electrodes into the brain and a pulse generator in the skull.  It’s really for very severely diseased people.  My co-founder and I started thinking about ways where we could deliver electrical neurostimulation to the brain but in a noninvasive package.  So what we found was – and I don’t know if you could pull up the slides, Brian.


Cain:  Yep.


Chao:  We saw this field really taking off.  What this plots is number of peer review publications over time covering this particular type of neurostimulation that you can do noninvasively.  So we started reading papers back in 2006 when there were only a handful, and here we are today – we’re at over 2,000 papers over the span of 10 years.  So it’s just really exciting to watch this field take off and we couldn’t help but to get excited about it.  That led to the founding of Halo Neuroscience and we’re really excited about this first product that you showed to your listeners just a second ago there.


Cain:  The Halo Sport.  If you would maybe talk a little bit to our listeners about kind of the electrodes that are in here and how this product works to deliver that electrical stimulation to the brain for enhanced performance.


Chao:  Yeah.  So Brian, as you hold that up, your listeners will see something that looks like a set of headphones, but what’s different about our headphones is those pieces running across the top.  We call those primers.  We call our technology neuropriming, like you’re priming your brain, and therefore we call those guys primers.  But they are effectively electrodes.  Those pieces will deliver an electric field that interacts with the brain.


When you put on a set of headphones (even the set of headphones that you’re wearing right now, Brian), the arch of the headphone just naturally goes over the motor cortex.  So you can see in red there, there’s this special part of the brain that controls movement in our bodies is highlighted there.  You can appreciate that any set of headphones, if you put it on like most people, will just naturally go over that piece of neuroanatomy.


So what we did is we built in our electrodes into that real estate, into a headphone form factor so that we could target this part of the brain.  What this technology does is a 20-minute application of this electrical wave form that will induce a temporary state of what neuroscientists call hyperplasticity, or for this conversation we can think of it as hyperlearning.  This induced state will last for about an hour.


For an athletic application, what we ask the athlete to do is to wear Halo Sport for 20 minutes before their training session.  Give us 20 minutes.  Then what we want you to do is we want you to feed the brain quality, deliberate, thoughtful movement-training repetitions.  Our promise to our athletes is that you’re going to get more neurologically from that training session.  You know, and I’m sure your listeners know, that brain performance is as important as physical.  The two are so closely linked it’s hard to dissect the two.


But there’s a big part of what makes an athlete a Hall of Fame athlete versus just a great athlete, is neural performance.  Specifically, the rate at which we learn from training.  We want to hasten that process.  We want to accelerate the process that the brain learns from training.  We’re sympathetic to our athletes in that training is precious and takes time; you impart a training load on the body which induces fatigue and risk of injury, so practice is precious to us and we just want to help our users get more neurologically from that same amount of practice.


Cain:  I actually worked out yesterday and I had the Halo Sport on.  I typically will wear it as I’m doing my warm-up routine.  So I’ll wear it and I’ll form roll and I’ll do some kind of jump rope and warm up the body.  Then on my way to, whether it’s triathlon training or weightlifting or kind of plyometrics – and when you put this on, you can actually feel kind of the buzz on the top of your head.  It was almost itchy, right?  So you know that it’s working.  To kind of explain that again, what it’s doing is it’s priming the motor cortex for enhanced movement.  Is that accurate?


Chao:  Yeah.  So what you’re feeling is that electric field doing its job.  Some people call it a sensation of itching.  What we hear a lot is like a tingling sensation.  So yeah, that’s just proof that it’s doing its job and the motor cortex is getting the neurostimulation that it needs.


Cain:  We had a question come in from one of our Inner Circle members, Matt Morse.  How many times a day can you use the Halo?  I know a lot of our athletes are MMA fighters or triathletes or training multiple disciplines.  I was with a college football team today that is doing weightlifting in the morning and more of their on-field skill development in the afternoon, so they get that kind of recovery window during the middle of the day.  Can they use the Halo Sport more than once during a day?


Chao:  Well, Matt, I’m on you.  We get this a lot.  When we tell our athletes that 20 minutes is good, they’re secretly thinking, “Well, 40 minutes might be twice as good.”


Cain:  No question.


Chao:  So unfortunately, Matt, there is some diminishing returns after 20 minutes.  Forty minutes doesn’t buy you double the time of hyperplasticity.  Forty minutes will maybe only buy you an extra 10 minutes of hyperplasticity.  So it’s not worth your time.  What we’ll do is we’re going to lock you out through the app.


Cain:  Yes.


Chao:  So you can use the system 20 minutes every 8 hours.


Cain:  I noticed that when you finish, it immediately goes into an 8-hour countdown.  Then there’s actually a button in there that you can hit to request more time.  Is that something that in case for some reason you leave the headset on and it’s not connected?  What is that option for?


Chao:  That’s actually to share it with a friend.


Cain:  Got it.


Chao:  We hope that the user him or herself doesn’t do it again within that window of time, but if you’ve got a workout partner or just a friend who is interested in giving it a go, then that’s what that feature is there for.


Cain:  Love it.  And great job explaining that, Dan.  That makes sense to Matt and if it makes sense to Matt, I’m sure it will make sense to our other Inner Circle members as well.  Matt, thanks for asking the question.  Dan, if we can go back to the PowerPoint here and maybe have you kind of take us through some of the success that you’ve had within the military and other fields as well.


Chao:  Yeah, so this is – we saw the science taking off and the published literature.  All of this data, not just the volume of the data but the quality of the data, just really piqued our interest.  The military was using this for drone pilot training and literally reducing the training time in half if they paired it with this technology versus not.  So we got really interested in this and especially the movement-based application, in part because of something that relates to the practicality of movement-based training in that it’s easier to measure than other forms of cognitive training.


The motor system, we can measure fine motor skill acquisition.  We can measure the production of force on a force plate or with different strain gauges.  We can put a cyclist on a Wattbike and measure the number of watts that they produce over a given amount of time and track their progress with a given amount of training.  So yeah, the motor cortex really – the motor system was this thing that we became really interested in and started doing testing.


Let’s look at some data.  I know your followers are pretty sophisticated and are interested in numbers.  And especially after reading your last book, hopefully data is a big part of what they do.


Cain:  Yeah.


Chao:  So this looks at – here’s some work that we did with the United States Olympic Ski team.  We’re specifically looking at the amount of force that a group of athletes can generate using a force plate.  So a force plate is like your digital scale at home x 1,000.  It’s like $35,000 for one of these things.  So the US Olympic Ski team is lucky enough to have one of these things.


What we did is we took a group of athletes and we split them into two.  Half got neurostimulation with Halo Sport and the other half got fake neurostimulation.  So everybody wears the equipment.  Everybody has the equipment turned on.  Half of them get the real thing and the other half just go through it.  The coaches don’t know of the groups.  The athletes don’t know.  It’s really one of these so-called randomized sham-controlled blinded studies.  So we trained every day, we measured every day, and this is what the data looks like.  By the end of this training program the Halo Sport group gets better by 31% versus 18% in the control group.


Cain:  Wow.


Chao:  So one 18% would be a win, right?  If you didn’t see the other line, 18% in this elite group of athletes, you’d be happy with that.  But now that we show what you could have gotten if you paired it with neurostimulation, it really brings up some new ideas.  If 18% was the goal, you could have shut the athlete down after Day 6.  If you follow that 18% line across over to the Halo group and you could have saved time.  Like if you’re in the military, you could have saved time and moved onto something else.  Let’s say you’re a football team and you’re trying to save training load on the athlete to give them more time to rest – that’s a good thing.  Less risk of injury.  It’s just more efficient training.  Or if you’re a ski team and you’re just trying to train to the maximum of your ability all building up to this one day of competition, then heck, just go for it.  Do exactly what they did.


Cain:  Well, that’s great.  What I love about the technology that you’ve got with Halo Sport is just how simple it is and how an athlete can go into the weight room, they can spray it with the water, they can put it on, and they can go through their warm-up and then go into their movements.  One of the questions that we got from Jeff Toller was, he said, What effect would happen, let’s say, if you had a bad practice session?  So let’s say you were going into agility drills and you had bad posture or you had bad footwork.  Would you be reinforcing bad habits?


Chao:  That’s a great question, Jeff.  The brain doesn’t know what a good or a bad rep is.  So we ask our athletes to be careful, to be really thoughtful and deliberate, to give us a really quality training session that day.  If you’re an experienced athlete, you probably know what a good rep is and what a bad rep is.  We ask that you be your own enforcer.  If you train with a coach or if you are the coach, you can even warn them:  “Listen, I need good reps out of you today.  These are going to be stickier reps.”


So that said, one practice session isn’t going to derail the athlete.  One bad practice session isn’t going to derail the athlete.  Like at the end of the day, even with neurostimulation, motor learning happens pretty slowly.  You’re not going to take a great athlete and make him bad in one bad training session, so it’s not like that.  What I would worry about is if, let’s say, they trained an entire off-season poorly with neurostimulation.  But I guess you would have that same concern without neurostimulation too.  So it’s a great question, Jeff.


Cain:  Great question.  Dan, one of the questions I had for you too was, let’s say you were using the skill of mental imagery, which I know a lot of athletes will do.  Let’s say an athlete coming back from rehab.  Let’s say a football player tears his ACL.  He’s in the middle of the season.  What he’s going to do is he’s going to watch film and as he watches film, he watches the play, he’ll close his eyes and he will visualize himself making the movements on the screen that he would want to be making.  Let’s say a quarterback hurts his shoulder; he can’t throw a football, but he’s going to visualize himself dropping back and throwing the football.  If he were to wear Halo Sport before he did that mental imagery session, would that imagery session have a deeper effect on his neuroplasticity and his development?


Chao:  I love that question.  I think it will work, Brian, but I’ve got no data to support that.  So let’s talk about some of the science.  If you’re visualizing movement without moving, your motor cortex is still lighting up like a Christmas tree.  You can watch this happen in an MRI scanner.  The person is not moving at all, but if you’re visualizing movement, the motor cortex is going crazy.


Cain:  Sure.


Chao:  And you’re learning.  You’re learning movement by visualizing it.  We just know empirically that it works.  The question is, could you make that faster yet with neurostimulation?  It’s a great idea.  I would love to do some testing.  I’ve got no data to support this claim so I just want to caveat that.  But I think it will work.


Cain:  I mean cognitively, as I think about it, due to the brain lighting up if you do an MRI scan of the brain when they’re doing mental imagery, I would think that – obviously we would have to have the data to back it up, but that would make sense to me that that would work.


Chao:  Yeah.  Totally.  And we’ve got a lot of athletes that we’ve become friends with over time that are using it in this application and they claim that they’re getting results.  But I would love to do a proper study where we take two groups of people and train them up in a different way.  One imagines imagery of movement and the other imagines imagery of smelling flowers, and let’s see who has a better golf swing after that, right?


Cain:  Yeah.  I was watching some of the videos on your website – if you go to www.HaloNeuro.com.  One of the videos that I was watching featured the sports science director with the San Francisco Giants.  As I was watching it, some of the players that were in the background that you interviewed – one of which was by the name of Tyler Beede, who pitched at Vanderbilt University, I had as a player in 2013 with Team USA.  So as I’m watching him wear the Halo and he’s working on pitching and all of that, I just thought as he’s watching a highlight video of himself and he’s doing mental imagery and all these mental prep things that go into the five-day starting pitcher routine, would this also benefit him doing that?  That would be something I think would be fascinating.  One of the top college pitchers in the past decade in Tyler Beede featuring with Halo Neurosport.  I thought that was pretty cool.


Chao:  Yeah.  Only person to ever be drafted twice in the first round, Tyler Beede.


Cain:  Yeah, how about that?  That’s right.  Blue Jays out of high school, I think.


Chao:  That’s exactly right.


Cain:  Yeah, how about that?  Small world.  Small world.  Well, another question comes in here and it comes in from Jacob Armstrong.  Jacob’s question is, Does increasing the intensity of the stimulation increase the effectiveness of the neuropriming session?  I know yesterday, when you start it – and it’s so easy to use – you basically connect the Halo Sport with your cell phone.  It starts and it counts the 20 minutes down for you and you can go between a 1 and a 10 stimulation level.  But that’s a great question.  Does increasing the intensity of stimulation increase the effectiveness of the priming session?


Chao:  Slightly.  Ever so slightly.  The stimulation intensity is 1 through 10.  The entire range is safe and effective.  Our recommendation generally is to use it at the highest intensity while still being comfortable.  So even at level 10 or 9, for most people that’s fine.  Brian, I don’t know what you used it at but for most people 8, 9, or 10 is perfectly fine.  If that feels good to you, then yeah, use it at the higher setting.


Cain:  I’ve used it at 10.  Again, you notice that feeling on top of your head which you know it’s working.  It’s actually transmitting the stimulation.  I haven’t thought about dropping it down.  I probably will try that now that I think about it to see if you can tell the difference.  What about like the leg powers all through the local Dallas Company and Michael Johnson Performance – what did you find there?


Chao:  So we worked with Michael Johnson Performance over the summertime where we had the same kind of setup where we divided these athletes into two groups, and we did before and after testing while everybody got the same training in the intervening time.  Here the goal was to really look at leg power.  We tested leg power using the Keiser air squat to report the number of watts of power that whatever body part produced.  In this case it was the legs.


Then we also tested vertical leave, which is a great very simple test of how powerful your legs are.  We tested vertically two different ways, one with the squat jump and the other with the countermovement jump.  Across the board the Halo Sport group got better by about 12% versus the control group got better by about 2%.  So again, this reinforces the data that we got from the US Olympic Ski team.  This data and more just gave us the confidence that not only do we have a technology that works in the lab – which admittedly is a very artificial environment – but we’ve got a technology that can work in the field.


Cain:  Totally.  You can use this.  What I love about it is not only is it something that you can use in the weight room, but unless you’re a football player or a hockey player that is wearing a helmet – I mean, you could wear this while you’re doing the fundamental execution of your sport, which I think is going to help speed up that learning curve especially in the youth athletes where it’s so competitive in terms of even being able to make a team to play, that if they can speed up that learning curve even by 1-2%, that’s going to maybe make a difference in a young person having a chance to participate in sport and have all the benefits that come with that versus maybe not even making the team.


Chao:  Yeah.  One note on youth sports – we’re 18 and over.  There’s just not enough data in the under-18 group for us to feel totally comfortable marketing this to folks that are under 18.  There is some data and everything points towards a safe product in the youth group, but until we have more, we just want to err on the side of caution.


Cain:  Is there any research currently being done in the youth group?  Because that is such a huge opportunity for Halo Sport.


Chao:  Yeah.  We’re cognizant of that most competitive athletes, I mean, it tilts young.  As we get older we start to drop out.  So yeah, the biggest meatiest part of our customer pyramid tilts young.  So yeah, there is data.  There is data.  It’s just not in the thousands.  We want to see thousands of subjects being tested.  We’re looking at hundreds right now.  We’ll get there.  We’re going to help that too.  We’re going to partner with different sports science institutes and universities that really value sports science and do quality research and we’ll be a part of that.


Cain:  Wonderful.  Wonderful.  Dr. Dan.  Dr. Daniel Chao.  Halo Sport.  Check it out at www.HaloNeuro.com.  If you’re serious about athletic performance and serious about improving your game, check out Halo Sport.



Thanks for listening to the Peak Performance Podcast.  If you enjoyed this episode, please head over to iTunes and leave a positive review or share a link to this episode on social media using #PeakPod.  Mention Brian Cain and one thing you learned in this episode for your chance to win a free ticket to the next Brian Cain Experience Live Event.  Dominate the Day.