Click here to watch the video version of this podcast.
Even the most experienced physicians encounter patients with conditions they can’t solve after multiple questions, tests, and treatments. Diana Driscoll, OD, hasn’t only treated some of these patients successfully; she was one of them.
On a trip to Costa Rica, Dr. Driscoll contracted a virus. Through 10 years of disability, she saw more than 50 doctors, but still had no answer. Her son, who also contracted the virus, was bedridden for three years.
Ultimately, Dr. Driscoll was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system condition with symptoms ranging from lightheadedness to serious digestive issues to dilated pupils.
She started her research into POTS by looking in the eye. What she found was a disruption to neurotransmitters caused by an immune response. After investigating further, she developed several nutritional supplements, including the patented Parasym Plus, which has been reported to not only restore nervous system function but also to resolve dry eye in many cases.
Dr. Driscoll is now the founder and president of Genetic Disease Investigators and the clinical director of POTS Care, the only clinic in the world dedicated to treating the underlying medical causes of POTS. She’s also the founder of the supplement company TJ Nutrition.
OIS Podcast host Paul Karpecki, OD, a dry eye expert who has run advanced dry eye clinics for more than 20 years, has encountered patients with unsolvable symptoms. He leads a conversation with Dr. Driscoll that covers her journey of solving the unsolvable and bringing a product to market that has the potential to help bedridden patients get up and walk. As a potential ophthalmic bonus, her products are also said to safely support normal tear production.
Listen to the podcast today to hear:
• How Dr. Driscoll identifies patients that may be experiencing vagus nerve disruption and what doctors should know about Parasym Plus.
• An in-depth discussion on the connections in immunity, neurology, and dry eye disease.
• Her advice for physicians and emerging entrepreneurs who want to bring a product to market.
• How she plans to get the word out about her business’s products and the medical needs behind them.
Click “play” to listen now
Paul Karpecki: Hello, and welcome to the OIS Podcast. I’m Dr. Paul Karpecki. Now I have the honor of getting to speak to Dr. Diana Driscoll, who has come up developed a company known as TJ nutrition. And I can speak firsthand of this technology, I have a extensive dry eye clinic of over 650 Positive diagnose Sjogren’s syndrome patients just to put it in perspective, not for I know that only cuz we’re doing some research and we had to look at how many we had, which surprised me, to be fair. So it’s a very advanced level of clinic. And so there’s always these patients where you just can’t solve what’s going on. And Diana has found a way developed a product that she came across that helped her and her family and now is being obviously used for a lot of patients and is having the same incredible impact on my patient population and solving patients. I could not figure out how to clear or treat their dry eye. And it’s been very consistent in terms of how they present what systemic manifestations they have. We’ve been able to put it together. So I’m excited to have Dr. Driscoll with us. And Diana, thanks for joining us on the OIS podcast.
Diana Driscoll: Thank you Dr. Karpecki. It’s such an honor to be here. I’m so excited to share this.
Paul Karpecki: We’re excited to have you. Can you take us through for our audience, those who don’t know you a little bit about your personal background? You know, where did you grow up? How to get into Optometry? And then you know, how did you make this kind of career choice to also develop and bring to market a nutritional product that’s having this kind of impact on patients?
Diana Driscoll: Right. It certainly wasn’t my plan. As you said, I’m optometrist and a University of Houston graduate and was always attracted to medical to some degree. And I headed toward optometry I think a lot of us do because of our history with bad eyesight, right, growing up in doctors’ offices being highly myopic. And it seemed like such a great profession. It was positive at the you’re helping people every day. And yet it was objective. I was very science-oriented type person. So optometry just seemed like a natural fit and I loved it and practice for many years and went to Costa Rica on a mission trip and got a virus and got sick and I can’t blame the virus and I certainly can’t blame Kosta region gorgeous country. But everyone recovered except myself, and I ended up being diagnosed with a form of autonomic dysfunction. autonomic nervous system wasn’t working well. We call that dysautonomia. This specifically was called POTS – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, that’s getting a little bit more press now because a lot of COVID patients are falling into that, but incredibly frustrating, completely disabling. I couldn’t finish my last two patients the day I was hit with this. And knowing could help. I was in clinical trials for this, I probably saw 50 doctors, I was resistant to being labeled disabled, I just could not believe that this virus did something that no one could figure out. But then my kids got sick from viruses, my son became disabled. And we were left with, no answers. And so that’s when I started to get into research and started by looking in the eyes. So a long circuitous route involving over 10 years of disability that was starting to get answers layer by layer over those 10 years and culminated with how the autonomic nervous system was not only affected in us figuring out why, but along that route, understanding on a very deep level, how the autonomic nervous system was involved in normal tear production, and then the control of inflammation. So hitting on that, chronic dry eyes are going away. And then extrapolating beyond that to patients who didn’t have you know, illness like I did, or they had autonomic dysfunction, but how supporting the neurology of both inflammation control the vague nerve, and lacrimal functional unit, if you will, the parasympathetic nervous system for tear production was resolving chronic dry and other patients too. So here I am back in eye care. amazing to me after this hugely circuitous route, through an extraordinarily disabling illness.
Paul Karpecki: That’s really fascinating. And I was lucky that you had reached out to me ways back, but now but yes, it was my dry clinic and I thought and I’ve always found it here and there, these little insights, little ability to solve another sometimes large group of patients that I couldn’t solve, they continue to come back and really, you know, there are a number of dogs To practice this type of cornea and dry around the country of the mall, just some optometrist to and you know, and so we tried sharing these ideas, no one could come up with a solution for some of them. And when you approached me, I thought, well, I’m going to start looking for patients who have issues surrounding the vagal nerve, such digestive issues such as flushing, such as, obviously, the issues you had with pots, but also things like fatigue, brain fog, and I’m seeing COVID patients being sent in who have all of these elements and large pupils as a great indicator. And all of a sudden getting these incredible responses or life’s changing or dry eyes going away, you’ve really achieved something remarkable. So how do you make I mean, in your case, you made the leap from optometry and practicing to well to not being able to practice and then entrepreneurship. I mean, unique approach to getting to it. But what a great reason for forgetting there. Did you get a call with a lot of hurdles? Was it? How do you take a product that you’re passionate, no can impact people, but then there’s still a step and getting it to market? How do how do you go about doing that?
Diana Driscoll: It was, you know, there were so many steps involved, and especially going through school, I think if we knew what was going to be ahead of us, we would never do it right. But you take it one day at a time one step at a time, just like when we set up any other business. But oh, I not only had to start with the science, I set up genetic disease investigators. And here I am a sick person trying to work through studies, somewhere in house somewhere on clinical trials.gov started looking in the eyes started to go down that route. And then when answers began to come and I was able to get crossed the finish line, I set up a clinic pots care. And that started with nothing. So there’s not even a piece of paper, there’s no business name, there’s no treatment, evaluation, protocols, whatever, had to do all that. And then the TJ Nutrition also started with nothing. So I achieved some patents, which was hugely helpful and very validating for me, I think his patent attorneys in the science realm are extraordinarily smart. And they understood as I explained in a patent, what got missed, they understood that which was great. And then went from the patents to how to create products, and then how to improve upon them. It wasn’t an overnight thing at all. I was initially focused on the patients with constipation and gastro creases, where they weren’t able to digest like my gallbladder shut down, for example. There’s few bowel movements, I started out with contact constipation, but it gets pretty ugly. And I was focused on getting that vagus nerve working again, and figuring out what happened to that, why is it not working? And that was when I realized, oh, look, dry eyes are going away, of course. So I backed up and tried to figure out every direct and indirect mechanism, that with what I was doing was affecting not only the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors for the vagus nerve, forget heart rate, and for inflammation control, but also the muscarinic receptors for the lack of a functional unit. And interestingly, as you mentioned, for pupils, so I could prove that we were hitting this muscarinic receptors because the pupil size changed. And then I wanted to improve upon that wrote some more patents. And then we just announced yesterday with a press release about Paracin plus eyes. So it was it was a process, but I look back on it now. And I think oh my gosh, I didn’t I didn’t know how many moving parts there would be I’m glad I didn’t know but you just take it a day at a time. Right?
Paul Karpecki: That’s really exciting. And it makes sense because I mean you’re also we’re you know with the Paracin originally more systemic you were taking care of your children I mean what a motivate, Yes, as well as yourself. I mean, that would motivate any of us to find well put around preceded I love that you did and solve that and now it’s having these incredible applications and this whole area of neurological dry eye is continuing to get more and more awareness unfortunately we have some topical later so actually nasal sprays but they’ve been recently approved and that fits Yes, this is on a systemic side that plays a key role you know in really helping support how much of an impact it says remember when I first started dry clinic and gentleman visit me he said you got to remember the acronym WOMAN and that stands for Water which we’re only using artificial tears, Oils which we got into MGD maybe a decade later, M for mucin, A for Androgens are still not having good treatments for that and N was Neurological or Nerves and it’s great that we’re finally getting the point we’re solving some of these and that is the most significant ones when it comes to dry eye disease, and of course, the body’s connected. So that whole systemic component plays a role. Take us through a little bit of how you identify these patients in clinic. So we have an ophthalmologist or optometrist listening. And they may have some patients who these can’t solve their dry eye and what are you asking the patients? What are you looking for? And then how long does it take for treatment to work? And what should we be telling patients about Paracin plus when we put them on it?
Diana Driscoll: Right. And, to your point that finally attention to neurology, it’s so important, we didn’t know a lot of the details of tear production and inflammation control. It wasn’t that long ago, that it was figured out even the vagus nerve was the anti-inflammatory nerve of the body. So of course, as eye doctors, we’ve never connected the vagus nerve to the eye because there is no connection, right? But if you step back, and if you think of dry eye as one component, to a systemic display of health or unhealth, it makes more sense. So in my case, it was dramatic, I was dramatically ill, and dry eyes were a secondary source or a secondary evidence if you will have a systemic problem. So if you take, say, my presentation, which was traumatic, and you turn it way down, what’s happening is we know more now that the immune system and neurology are intricately connected, right. And we keep in mind that certain aspects of inflammation and even some inflammatory cells themselves can influence the release of some neurotransmitters. And acetylcholine is one of those. Acetylcholine is needed by the LAC runner for the muscarinic receptors to produce tears, okay, but it’s also used by the vagus nerve to help us control inflammation, and control gut function. Interestingly, it’s also the major neurotransmitter in the brain for short term memory, cognition, executive function, that sort of thing. So when you look at the patients who could be affected by their immune system, maybe going wrong, resulting in interference with the neurotransmitter, you want to look beyond just the dry eyes, in the patients don’t report this because at their eye doctors, right? They don’t go you know; I’m getting a little constipated. It just doesn’t come up. But they might be a little more forgetful, they might miss more of their appointments or be a little bit edgier. Sometimes you can see a little bit of flushing, but we’re looking at basically symptoms of anti-cholinergic poisoning, turned way down. And the symptoms can come and go to some degree. But oftentimes the worst patients get the more they know they don’t feel great. But they’ll often be Oh reflected more, I’m getting older, or I don’t eat that well, I know I should have been exercising or I’m just stressed out. But as eye doctors if we can look for in conjunction with the dry eyes, a tendency to get large pupils leaning toward more constipation or GI issues, some people have had their gallbladder removed. Usually, they don’t have any response to that. Some forgetfulness brain fog, and fatigue, mental and physical. Those are the low hanging fruit if you will. Those are the ones that tend to flip around very quickly. And cognition will oftentimes reverse or be improved. And that way, within an hour, they can tell their sharper, they can tell their more away, the sicker they are. And the worse it is, the more obvious it is, pupil size usually normalizes within two or three days. The bowel movements usually restore within a day. And you know, you’re going to get there with the dry eyes. So the studies we did we gave it four to six weeks to make sure that as much repair as possible and inflammation control is taken over for the dry eyes. And that’s what we could be sure we got it.
Paul Karpecki: That’s really awesome. I know. I’ve also had, you know, at least I guess four patients now who had neurological effects from COVID, you know, yes. And they’re noticing dramatic improvement as well. And that’s just kind of ties into the fact that you’re the origination even for years was based on a viral cause maybe we’re seeing certain patients neurologically affected by COVID and the various
Diana Driscoll: Absolutely net neuro neurological effect call usually is an effect on the immune system. So if we can tie together immunity in neurology, it makes sense. And we have to do that for those patients.
Paul Karpecki: What have you learned along the way Diana that could assist other colleagues who are who have an idea and think and have tested a little bit, believe they could take bring to market a really successful product like this? Besides just taking it day by day and learning as you go? Are there any insights that may help them speed up their process through what you’ve learned in yours?
Diana Driscoll: Oh, boy, I wish I could say I was an expert in that I think I’ve made every mistake to mean to me and, but I will say, to some degree, ignorance was bliss, in that if I had known how hard it was going to be, we wouldn’t have tried it. But like writing a patent, for example, I didn’t know anything about writing patent. So I didn’t ever have the thought that I couldn’t do it. So by not knowing how hard it was going to be, I thought, well, sure, I’ll do this. And I just read patents and started to work on it and did it. So sometimes we can get in our own heads, I think and slow ourselves down unnecessarily, that if I could work through some things, I think anyone can do it and not to give up. And not to be dissuaded by anyone else telling you something can’t be done. Even the journey with POTS. There’s major research centers involved in this. Who couldn’t figure it out? So you do have to be somewhat brave, somewhat independent thinking and just go for it?
Paul Karpecki: It’s a great answer, because I could see how some people think well of these big research centers out and figure it out now, am I sure I can figure it out. And here’s how brave and move forward and see we can hear results yourself, your children. And now how many patients I mean, if I had some incredible stories of patients whose lives have turned around with this, because for use, I’m starting to see that already.
Diana Driscoll: Yes, incredible stories, it is the best job ever. And we see it all here we see patients who’ve been sick, you know, just a few months post COVID to patients who’ve been bedridden for 30 years. And certain dominoes start to fall, and they can end up with some permanent damage. We have to figure out what that is and back up, but we do see it all. But I mean, I was bedridden, my son was bedridden for three years and to see people be able to get back to life. And back to doing what they were meant to do. It’s amazing. The fact that we can help patients with chronic dry eye now it’s just a huge bonus. And it makes me feel so good to be able to return the favor, if you will to optometry to give back to our profession. That gave me the knowledge that I needed to be able to figure all this out. What I learned I learned in optometry school, about the vagus nerve, for example, that that taught me what to do in my failed, I remembered what we learned in lecture and somehow some of those details that were important. So it’s really great to be able to get back faster.
Paul Karpecki: You know, our audience for the OIS podcast range from you know, industry, obviously, colleagues in optometry and ophthalmology colleagues that shows etc or anything if there’s one thing anyone listening could help with, is there anything you need at this stage of the company?
Diana Driscoll: Oh, that’s interesting. So just talking about it’s been just me, right? Diana’s been out there trying to spread the word. But I am just one voice. And there’s only so much I can do. So I’m trying to consider ways to grow the company quickly or get the information out better for chronic dry eye and for autonomic dysfunction, too. So I’m not certain which direction to go. But if there is an audience out there with any sorts of ideas, that’s where I’m exploring business was not my major, you know, not my comfortable place. But I feel like it needs to get out there. It this needs to happen.
Paul Karpecki: We’ve been, what compelled me even ask you to be a guest was I their initial response and, you know, went through entire case in one clinic day. You know, the response from these patients that I had not been able to solve is just compelled me to say there’s something that has been incredibly discovered here that’s incredibly innovative, which fits into our theme, you know, and to invite you to share some of these insights and boy, you’ve really done that beautifully and also even on so much of your experience and what you’ve what you’ve learned.
Diana Driscoll: Appreciate that.
Paul Karpecki: Thanks Diana, thanks for actually the time and just sharing so much in what you went through, as you mentioned, which you’ve come to and what you’re doing for patients and for doctors are now able to solve the issues with some patients they haven’t been able to solve. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
Diana Driscoll: Right, that’s interesting. I have a clinic I’m at POTS care, potscare.com. But I have other stuff. So I set up DrDianadriscoll.com. To try to compile some of that. The clinics by the easiest because remember, in the clinic. Yeah.
Paul Karpecki: Thank you.
Diana Driscoll: Thank you.
Paul Karpecki: Thank you, Dr. Driscoll for joining us today on a very interesting and innovative podcast. Thank you to all our listeners for taking time to be part of this. And we look forward to seeing you all are hearing and getting to talk to you again, on our next interview on the OIS podcast. Thank you.
Diana Driscoll: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Karpecki.
Paul Karpecki: Thank you, Dr. Driscoll.