Using Virtual Reality to Treat Mental Illness

SVJP Benkoykai Webinar Series: Using Virtual Reality to Treat Mental Illness. March 16, 5:00pm (PT) // March 17, 9:00am (JT). See article for speaker information.

Mental illness is a silent epidemic that causes enormous pain and economic loss. Treatments such as psychiatric drugs have had some beneficial impact, but do not work for all patients and can produce serious side effects. A severe shortage of trained therapists and the costs of employment make therapy, while an effective treatment, difficult to come by. Therefore, most mental health is severely undertreated.

The Silicon Valley Japan Platform held a Benkyokai webinar on March 16, 5pm PT // March 17, 9am JST to explore an alternative solution making progress as a viable treatment of mental illness: Virtual Reality. VR offers a unique opportunity to deliver scalable mental health treatment efficiently and at low-cost. Never before has a technology been able to create and disseminate experiences that the human brain internalizes as real, lived experiences. While still in the very early stages of understanding the uses of this technology in the field of mental health, exciting possibilities are being created with applications already being used towards the treatment of PTSD and chronic pain.

Our featured speaker, Anna Caltabiano, shared the impact this new, innovative treatment is having on the field of mental health care, and how VR has influenced collaborative partnerships between technologists and clinicians. The session was moderated by Devang Thakor.


Anna Caltabiano is a visiting scholar in the Design Psychology Lab at Imperial College London. Her current research is centered on virtual reality delivered treatment for anxiety disorders. Anna has degrees from Brown University, where she was a graduate in the Program in Liberal Medical Education and a concentrator in Literary Arts. She also has a Master’s from the University of Cambridge in Biological Anthropology with a speciality in Evolutionary Psychiatry. In addition to her work on virtual reality, she has researched the effect of social network usage on adolescent psychology, and has also published 4 novels (with Hachette and HarperCollins publishing groups).


Dr. Devang Thakor is a biotechnology executive, scientist, US patent attorney (similar to 弁理士), and California-licensed attorney (弁護士). As the Vice President of Intellectual Property and Legal at Turn Biotechnologies, Inc., he is building the intellectual property portfolio for an innovative mRNA therapeutics startup. As the President of Anioplex LLC, he provides scientific, strategic, and business advisory to startups, Global 500 corporations, venture capital firms, and universities.

Devang was previously a primary examiner (上級審査官) at the USPTO (米国特許商標庁), where he granted more than 130 patents on pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, cosmetics, nutraceuticals, and medical devices. Before that, he developed nucleic acid medicine, regenerative medicine, and biomaterial technologies as a researcher at Harvard Medical School, Kyoto University’s Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences (再生医科学研究所), and UCLA. His research resulted in more than 20 scientific publications and has been cited more than 700 times.

Devang received his PhD and MS in Biomedical Engineering and BS in Mathematics/Applied Science and Psychobiology, all from UCLA. He also received his JD, with High Tech Law Certificate with Corporate Specialization and honors, from Santa Clara University.