Valkee in the News


Psych Central


Light to the brain relieves winter blues

An unusual method of delivering light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): through the ear. Finnish researchers present their invention with positive findings from a randomized controlled trial, in this short news clip.


A bright word in the ear for those with winter blues

As the days shorten, many people's thoughts turn to how they can avoid the dreaded winter blues. A break in the bright sunshine of Barbados or the Canaries might appeal, although such tonics are expensive and soon wear off.

Those motivated enough will force themselves to rise early for a dawn run or a walk with the dog. But will they keep up that routine, through snow and sleet, all winter long?

However, now scientists have come up with a new way of tackling seasonal affective disorder (SAD), that they say cures it in just eight minutes a day.

The technique involves beaming light directly into the brain through the ears.

It is based on the discovery that the brain itself is just as sensitive to daylight as the eyes, with 'photoreceptive' parts using it to help set our biological clocks.

At least 18 brain regions contain light-sensitive opsin proteins, which are also found in eyes, discovered scientists at Oulu University in Finland, a country with high rates of SAD.

Earbuds from Finland: They light up your brain

NOV 9, 2011 19:24 GMT

Five years ago, Nokia engineer Antti Aunio was trying to brighten up his flat to deal with seasonal affective disorder, known as winter depression and a common problem in northern Finland with its dark and long winters.

His childhood friend Juuso Nissila, a scientist who had studied the impact of lights on animals, had another suggestion: instead of getting new lamps that promise to lighten your mood, why not make a device that sends light straight to your brain?

That’s how Aunio quit Nokia and joined Nissila in starting up Valkee, which now sells earplugs which send bright lights to the brain through ear canals.

On Wednesday, Valkee and scientists from the University of Oulu presented results of two small clinical trials to a science conference in Budapest, saying the earplugs can effectively prevent and treat winter depression.

Around 15-20 percent of central Europeans suffer from the winter disorder. In Valkee’s hometown of Oulu in northern Finland, there is less than four hours of daylight during the depths of winter.

Valkee launched its bright-light headset in August 2010 and sold 6,000 of them in Finland over the following winter.

It is now aiming to grow sales of earplugs, which retail for 185 euros, by around 5-6 fold by the financial year ending in March 2012.

“This is a unique thing and there aren’t many unique things in the world,” Timo Ahopelto, chief executive of Valkee, told Reuters in an interview.

Valkee investors include Anssi Vanjoki, long-time No 2 executive at Nokia, and health technology investor Esther Dyson.

Ahopelto said he does not expect to see rival products on the market any time soon. Regulatory approval to sell the product as a medical device took around three years.

“It’s such a mad thing that I do not think we will see others in near future.”


Valkee's Claimed Benefits For S.A.D. Strengthened After Clinical Trial Results

By Greg Anderson, November 08, 2011, 4 Comments

Everyone has an opinion on Valkee, the headset that shoots bright light into the ear canal to treat and prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). It's not unreasonable to have some doubts about the device's claims; the theory that the ear canal contains the path to the brain's photosensitive areas is an odd concept to most laymen. And the device, which has small light bulbs inside what looks like MP3 player headphones, does seem strange enough to be touted on a late-night infomercial as a miracle cure for weight loss. But regardless of the misconceptions, this week scientists from the University of Oulu are presenting two peer reviewed clinical trials at the 11th International Forum for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Budapest with strong results in favor of Valkee's claims. 

In the first study done on Valkee, over a four week period with a daily 8-12 minute Valkee dose, 92% of the patients with SAD achieved full remission measured by the self-rated BDI-21, the most widely used questionnaire for rating depression. In this study, the daily time of usage was personalized at the study clinic.

And in the randomized controlled trial presented this week in Budapest, 89 subjects suffering from severe seasonal affective disorder had a 12-min daily Valkee dose at home in three different randomly divided groups of one, four, and nine lumen. The response rates in the sub-groups were 74-79% for seasonal depression and 47-62% for anxiety symptoms, and included at least 50% reduction in BDI-21 and HAMA score at week four. The daily administration time was fixed to the morning, after waking up.

“These two trials show that bright light channeled into the brain via ear canal is an important future method to treat seasonal affective disorder”, comments professor Timo Takala, MD, PhD, and chief physician at Oulu Deaconess Institute.

Valkee's roots have always been rooted in neurology, biology, psychiatry and physiology. Since his time as a student of biology, cofounder Juuso Nissilä had been conducting research to test and prove that the human brain is photosensitive in the same way that many animals brains have been proven to be. From this exploration Nissilä developed the concept of Valkee and with Antti Aunio, and launched their headset in August of 2010. 

The research presentation will be available for download at the Valkee website on Wednesday, November 9, after its scientific presentation at noon CET.