Hi there, welcome to a new series all about health in the workplace hosted by DocHQ. My name is Sarah and over the next few episodes I’ll be speaking with health experts on conditions such as menopause, menstrual health, stress and mental health. The aim of the series is to shine a much-needed spotlight on the issue of overlooked health conditions in the workplace.

Thank you for joining us today and today we’re talking with Neuraura, a biotech company based in Calgary, Canada that’s transforming the standard of care for chronic underserved health conditions. Currently they’re working specifically on advancing technology to help those suffering with PCOS. PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome can cause hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, excess androgen levels and cysts in the
ovaries. Irregular periods, usually with a lack of ovulation, can make it difficult to become pregnant, meaning PCOS is the leading cause of infertility. It’s estimated that 8 to 13% of reproductive age women suffer with PCOS and up to 70% of affected women remain undiagnosed worldwide. Today we’re lucky to be joined by Neuraura’s CEO, Claire Dixon. Claire, thank you so much for joining us today. I just wonder if you could start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you developed your business because we’d love to discuss your journey and the ethos of Neuraura and your device as well.

Claire Dixon

Awesome, thanks Sarah. Yeah, I’m thrilled to be here. So yeah, a little bit about me. I am based in Canada. I’ve been here about 14 years but I’m originally from the UK. So you’re listening to pick up a bit of an accent. For me, entrepreneurship is a third career. So, you know, first career in consulting and then second career in senior operational roles in academia. And really, you know, when I started working with people in entrepreneurship, I was like, I found my people, just kind of the drive and a mission bigger than themselves. It’s just, you know, love working in this field, obviously with my team, as well as the broader entrepreneurship community.

In terms of kind of what I bring to the role and kind of my special source, I’d say, you know, I’ve always loved working in kind of complex technical areas and, you know, have really loved transitioning that into the healthcare environment, particularly with a condition as complex as PCOS. I think kind of one of the reasons that we are where we are in terms of the standard of care today is just purely its complexity. You know, it’s a multi-system disorder that affects, you know, how you metabolise, how you, you know, as you say, your hormonal cycle, and really affects your wellbeing in lots of different ways. And even how your cells replicate and repair. So, you know, has increased risks for certain cancers because of that. In terms of the business, so Neuraura has been around for seven years, but we only made this pivot into the women’s health application about 18 months ago.

That’s been a tremendous decision for us and absolutely incredible over the last 18 months, kind of getting our product ready to get to market. Our core technology is a micro electrode, so a neural electrode, so it can both record brain signals, but also can stimulate electrically. And so we’re applying that non-invasively in this indication. So it has application for lots of different clinical problems, but, you know, we decided to choose PCOS, really looking at the scale of the problem and the current state of play in terms of what’s there for people. So standard of care, as you probably know, is hormonal contraceptives, which if anything, they actually make the condition worse in some ways. So, you know, they can lead to additional weight gain. They obviously disrupt fertility. I mean, that’s their job. That’s what they’re designed for. And there’s additional side effects that come with the pill. And so it really just pushes the problem down the road for later. And so, yeah, we’re really excited to be able to innovate in this space.

We found some amazing research led by a true thought leader in the field of PCOS, Dr. Stena Victorian. She’s a chief scientific officer of the Global Research Association, a PCOS society. And so we’re translating her research into a device that women can use at home. And our goal is to make that widely accessible to as many people as possible. As we came along this journey over the last 18 months, we’ve really learned so much about the burden of this disease. And frankly, the current system of care adds to the burden of the disease in many ways. For example, a lot of women with PCOS develop eating disorders because the only option that’s presented to them is go away and lose some weight, which is incredibly difficult if you have PCOS or metabolic PCOS. So, you know, part of our broader mission is actually to lessen that burden. And so we’re building a digital platform which aims to bring everything together into one place. So great answers, right? Take all the scientific evidence as it stands and make that accessible to people, but also complementary clinical and wellness solutions for this user group. Yeah, so that’s what we’re about.


I mean, it’s great to hear of that kind of information being made more accessible to people as well, because I think a lot of women and a lot of people experience, and it can be quite frustrating going to doctors and kind of going back and forth, getting different suggestions about what might be happening and then eventually maybe getting a diagnosis and then, like you said, not being given the most helpful advice. And it can be quite a disheartening experience, especially because obviously a lot of medical research wasn’t necessarily based on women’s own health conditions. So a lot of it can fluctuate. And Lina, I know you’ve had like a very long experience with your own health, and I wonder what your kind of perspective on this kind of topic is as well.

Lina MacFarlane

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting what you say, Claire, about it affecting mental health and how also being told to take contraception as a treatment method, which can actually make things worse, make you gain weight. For me, and if you’ve listened to previous episodes of podcasts, you’ll know from very early on I have had problems with my menstrual cycle, heavy periods, irregular periods. It was unfortunately not until my midtwenties, early mid-twenties, I think it was about seven years ago that I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries. And that was after years of me complaining to my doctor about, you know, and because I, because I was thin and I didn’t have excessive hair growth, and, you know, I didn’t have all of the traditional kind of polycystic ovary symptoms, it took such a long time for them to really be taking me seriously. And when I did get my diagnosis, it was, okay, so you’re on this pill, we recommend a different pill or the coil. And for me, like, especially in my early twenties, I really struggled with mental health. And the thought of going on more hormones was just like not an option. And I can’t remember, I mean, this was years ago, so I can’t remember exactly the journey that I went down. And I’m pretty sure I went down the route of having a coil fitted, which had other complications and then trying all sorts. And then a few, I mean, six years after that, I then got diagnosed with endometriosis. The awareness is growing and like the support is growing. And I’m so glad that, you know, we’re even having this conversation and talking about this, like such an important topic, because I remember seven years ago, when I was told I had polycystic ovaries, you know, you just kind of Google it and then you find, you know, these things about infertility and, it’s a scary space.

So I think from, you know, from me and hearing different people’s journeys as well, because where they’re so different, like the symptoms and the concerns that you haven’t, that they’re all so different, but can be from the same cause could be, you know, exactly the same condition, but two different ends of the scale on what your symptoms are. And I think like that makes it really difficult and relatable and unrelatable and quite confusing. But for me, you know, personally, so when I had my diagnosis, like luckily at that time, like kids weren’t really on the cards, I wasn’t really thinking too much about fertility. I didn’t, I wasn’t under a lot of pressure, I suppose, you know, to, to conceive, but I can imagine that, you know, if you are a woman who’s just been diagnosed and you’re desperate to have kids, that would be a really sort of, you know, scary situation to be in, because one of, like, as you mentioned those earlier, Sarah, that is a huge cause for infertility. I’m very lucky personally to have been able to conceive naturally. I know a lot of women struggle with that.

So I feel incredibly lucky actually to have these two huge conditions, which have affected me physically and mentally for years. I just feel really lucky, like genuinely so lucky because I know some women are like getting their eggs frozen at 20 years old because they’ve just been diagnosed and, you know, or having to go through chemical, menopause at 30 years old. They’re not quite ready to have kids, but they’re in so much pain with that. And they’ve got such large cysts on their ovaries. This is what they’ve been recommended. So which comes with, it’s a whole other world of symptoms and everything. So yeah, it’s something that I’m really passionate about, but I also feel really, I guess, lucky in a sense that I’ve managed to go through that. Yes. It’s something I’ve had to live with, but, you know, it hasn’t luckily affected me, my journey, my life too much, but I really do empathise with those that, that has had a long fertility journey or long struggles and with the condition.

Claire Dixon

For sure. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, when, when we, pivoted to this application, you know, it was actually one of our interns that started to teach us about this condition and the effect it had. And I mean, if you can imagine, you know, I’m sitting there in a business team meeting with one of our, you know, young interns and, you know, I went through eight years of fertility treatment, and, you know, four different doctors, you know, the whole, the whole shebang, right. The end of the storey is lucky. I have a lovely nine-year-old son. You know, I wish I had more, but that wasn’t, that wasn’t on the cards for me. But in eight years, nobody mentioned PCOS to me at all. And, you know, when I later talked to my kind of GP about it, who’s great, by the way, like a really good doctor to me, we’ve had a good relationship for years. She was like, well, you don’t have a BMI of over 35 and you don’t have a beard. And I was like, having done my research on PCOS, I was like, but I have high cortisol. I have high cholesterol.

I have ADHD. I had postpartum depression. Like, like there, there’s not just one way in which this disorder manifests, you know, and maybe it’s not just one disorder, right. There’s, there’s at least four clusters of different ways in which it’s, manifest typically in folks. But you know, it’s not really the GP’s fault because, at least here we found that they get less than an hour of training in, in, unless they specialise in, in this, area. And actually PCOS isn’t owned by any clinical discipline, right? You’ve got endocrinology, dermatology, obs and gyno, they kind of all see, women obviously, as you know, almost 20% of the population have this present in different ways, but nobody owns it because it is so complex and affects so many different systems in the body. So the system just isn’t geared up, to really support women on this journey. And, you know, so it’s not surprising, right? Like, and, and I think the commonality, you know, I, I hear so many storeys about different experiences, different primary versus secondary concerns, things, you know, people who have polycystic ovaries who have periods like clockwork, right? You know, who don’t have irregular periods, who don’t have any problem conceiving, but they have cysts. You know, it’s, it’s that burden, right? It’s, and that’s why I feel like there’s so much opportunity just to chip away at that, right?

You know, because when you sit down with your doctor, you’ve got an eight minute appointment, you’re only allowed to talk about one symptom at a time, right? Which doesn’t lend itself well to this type of complex condition or endometriosis or any other kind of chronic conditions we, unfortunately are dealing with, you know, we, we really are going to strive to provide a place where at least to the extent that the research exists, we’ll make it available in one place. And that’s kind of, you know, our starting point, as we, as we work towards getting our device, obviously a therapeutic device onto the market. Because yeah, the common, the commonality is there’s been that emotional toll, the stress and the anxiety, the depression, as a result of, you know, having to deal with this.


I mean, I think that’s, it’s really nice to hear that it was an intern’s kind of suggestion or bringing it up, you know, cause it is something that I think in the last like 10 or so years, there’s been a more recognition on these kinds of chronic women’s health conditions, whereas it’s not like they didn’t exist before and always existed. So it’s, it’s, it’s great to see that people are kind of like taking it to themselves and, where the resources are lacking in one place, making it their mission to make it more accessible and to kind of have it more spoken about, because just, you’re saying like the more people go to doctors or the more they bring attention to it, the more research is going to be able to be added to it. And the more that can be done to actually provide supports, cause it is something where unfortunately there is no cure for it as a lot of chronic health conditions, like saying with endometriosis, that’s it. And it’s, it’s kind of a part of that female experience to just continue experiencing pain and discomfort because that’s, it’s built in.

I think it’s so important to have kind of companies now really working to lessen that and to change that because there’s no way that we can kind of continue on the path we’re going on without putting a spotlight on women’s health. So I think it’s great to see that that’s something that you guys are really like taking considerate care to do. And it’s something that we, we as well are really trying to pivot that way into women’s health, specifically towards like menopause and kind of just making overall like hormonal and health testing more accessible and trying to provide an at-home service for people. And it’s still in its kind of early stages. But it’s something that like, it can be very daunting as well, going to a doctor or, or very time consuming and not everyone has that as the time to afford to do it. So I think that was kind of our impetus behind it as well. I don’t know if you agree with that, Lina, but just like that making it something that people can do themselves without having to struggle to be heard and maybe being able to go to a doctor and show them what their kind of at-home report says. I don’t know if you have anything else you want to add on the health checks as well about, the kind of menopause side, because I think that kind of is another thing where not everyone’s, not every person’s menopause experience is going to be the same way. And that’s something that we’ve learned a lot in our kind of, discovery of it as well.

Lina MacFarlane

I think our mission is to make information more accessible and I do think it’s really important that we are, we advocate for ourselves and we educate ourselves. And actually I think the best, the most productive conversations that I’ve had with GPs have actually been after I’ve said, this is the, like, this is all the evidence that I’ve done. This is my research. This is what I think is wrong with me. And then actually things have progressed and I’ve, you know, I’ve got, I’ve managed to get somewhere and I get a scan or a blood test. So, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do at DocHQ is to make that more accessible and give with our health checks is to, you know, give people the power to be able to gain that information themselves rather than relying on long waiting lists.

It will definitely help. And just doing your research, whatever your condition might be, whatever your age might be, whatever your symptom might be, I would just, you know, suggest those people do their research and yeah, advocate for themselves. I was just going to say, I wanted to ask sort of like your guys’ opinion on what, you know, should be expected from employers. Obviously I’ve been through this, I’ve, you know, been very open with my managers and everything, but what can employers do to support their staff who are going through these, you know, challenges and who’ve either been diagnosed or waiting the diagnosis?

Claire Dixon

I was just going to add that I don’t see a conflict between, you know, what we’re doing, what, what you’re doing and actually lessen the, lessening the burden on the health system, because it’s these chronic conditions and, you know, when we look at women with PCOS, women with endometriosis, the burden of disease kind of escalates through life, right? So, you know, with PCOS, it’s the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia, right? Where it’s type three diabetes, that’s like the highest burden on the health system. And so, you know, I think the trend towards thinking, you know, longevity and, actually improving those health outcomes and delaying the onset of some of those, chronic complications of some of these disorders is exactly where we’re at, right? Like let’s, you know, give people the best lives you can give them for as long as possible, right? And, and push off some of those, those complications as long as possible.

So I think that empowerment piece is entirely consistent with a system like the NHS, you know, and kind of the, shared responsibility for your health, which I think, you know, you have to be an advocate, you have to be at the table, because you can’t just assume you have, you have to do your own research to, to be, you know, a good consumer of healthcare. In terms of, the work question and how do we support people at work? Well, I think there’s like, there’s a shift happening, right? And, which is really exciting around, attitudes towards work. And I think, you know, if there are a small number of positive things that came out of the pandemic, it’s probably one of them in terms of, recognising that, our post-industrial revolution treating people like machines, you know, you’re going to get the best out of people if you put them in, put their bum in a seat for eight hours a day, five days a week is not necessarily how human beings operate.

I think it’s really exciting actually, you know, in the same way that, companies like wild AI are looking at kind of athletic performance, in terms of, you know, how across your hormonal cycle, you can actually, you know, perform better at different times of the month. I think it’s really exciting companies like, I talked to phase app earlier this week, how, you can actually think about, you know, how you’re going to perform at times like in the luteal phase of your cycle versus other phases and actually start to shape your, you know, to the extent you have control, you know, what activities you’re doing at work, what you’re focused on so that you will perform to your absolute best. I think that’s really exciting from an individual viewpoint. You know, I know when I give a pitch, when I’m I’m on fire. So, you know, but I think, I think employers, you know, I’ll say this, you know, same thing for doctors.

It’s like, start with just listening, right. Listening and making people feel seen and heard in, in every realm workplace at home. You know, if you’re, if you’re a partner or family member supporting somebody with, with a chronic complex conditions, you know, just making people feel heard and seen is like sometimes the biggest thing. And you know, I think we’re starting to break through some of those barriers around, perhaps kind of, some mental models, right. Which are outdated and we need to kind of let go of. So things like to be a woman is to suffer, right. Like, you know, I think kind of the, the attitude towards women’s pain, right.

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Thank you to Claire Dixon for joining us for this wonderful conversation.