Surrey, BC - A Hotbed for Mental Health Innovation

May 7, 2018
Mental health is an increasing challenge for Canadians, with one in five Canadians experiencing mental illness each year. Researchers and entrepreneurs in Surrey are playing a critical role in this battle against mental health disorders as the City’s large and diverse population and collaborative culture between government, academia, and the local health authority are attracting world-class talent into its health technology cluster and transforming Surrey into a hotbed for new mental health innovation technologies.

SFU Surrey’s eBrain Centre is one example of collaboration at work, bringing together stakeholders including university, hospital, health policy makers, industry, and community, to focus research and discovery on creating solutions for real-world problems. The first of its kind in Canada, the Centre is led by Dr. Faranak Farzan, the Chair of SFU’s Technology Innovations for Youth Addiction and Mental Health and attracting research talent from around the world. Through this Centre, Dr. Farzan is looking to provide alternative treatments for addiction and mental health in youth. According to Dr. Farzan, “Current medications for mental illnesses are either not effective in a large minority of youth or have side effects and this is in part because they were created for adults. This begs the question; can we come up with innovative ways of diagnosis and treatments tailored for this population?”

The eBrain Centre’s neuromodulation program, soon to be located at Surrey Memorial Hospital, is one of these treatments and uses FDA-approved transcranial magnetic stimulation as a non-invasive alternative to medication by targeting treatment to specific parts of the brain. The program has recently received $250,000 of federal funding to equip it with the latest, state-of-the-art equipment, which will enable trials with youth in depression, possibly with concurrent addiction problems. “The work we do with digital technology and neurotechnology is giving us increased understanding about the different brain patterns involved in mental health. It is helping people understand that mental health is physical health,” explains Dr. Farzan.

Partnering with the John Volken Academy, a long-term addiction treatment centre, the eBrain Centre is also testing and validating an application that will exercise and strengthen a person’s cognitive control network in the brain, which is the network involved in impulsivity. This application is designed to help people who know they want to get over their addiction, but cannot because of their impulses. Concurrent to this, they are working on combining several areas of research, such as artificial intelligence and biosensor technology, to discover ways of predicting relapse probability in people who are in the addiction recovery process.

Innovation Boulevard is another example of successful health technology collaboration between the City of Surrey, Simon Fraser University, and the Fraser Health Authority, and it is paving the way for introducing innovative technologies into BC’s largest health care system. MindfulGarden, one of their member companies, has created an interactive digital health platform to interact with patient voice and gestures in order to de-escalate anxiety and aggression in delirium and dementia patients. This technology calms patients without the use of drugs or restraints, allowing treatment to begin sooner, which ultimately results in a decrease in hospitalization time.

Wellin5, another Innovation Boulevard mental health start-up, takes their solution to the internet, offering access to online counselling services securely and conveniently. These sessions can be done through video, email, and soon text as well. 

These are just a few of the mental health success stories budding in Surrey’s health technology sector. If you have a health technology innovation you would like to jumpstart in Surrey or would like to connect to our innovation ecosystem, connect with us at invest@surrey.ca.