How These Startups Will Improve Thousands of Lives Across the Globe
If you lost your ability to walk or talk, what would you do to get it back?
Most people would answer: anything. The problem is, “anything” can come at serious costs — both physical and financial. Some of the world’s most debilitating diseases are also uncommon. Patients suffer not only from their symptoms, but also from a lack of accessible, affordable, and noninvasive treatments. It’s insult to the injury of a devastating diagnosis.
Take ALS, for example. Thanks to the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge, the disease, which strips away patients’ motor function while leaving cognitive abilities intact, finally got some much-needed awareness and funding. But devices that help ALS patients communicate are still not available or affordable to most patients.
That’s what EyeControl is working to change. Their communication solution, which allows locked-in patients to type or speak using only the movements of their eyes, will be available at 1/10th the price of other technologies. It will also be user-friendly and convenient. Using an infrared camera connected to the frames of glasses and a small device with speakers, it does not require users to face a large, stationary computer. This means talking on the go, or while lying down– which is freeing, and safer. As Itai Kornberg, EyeControl CTO says, talking to your family should be natural and spontaneous.
For the EyeControl staff, this technology is personal. After meeting and speaking to a muscular dystrophy patient, Itai realized that eye-controlled communication was the key for locked-in patients to communicate more naturally. So he managed a hackathon to develop apps to do just that. There, he connected with Shai Rishoni, Prize4Life CEO and ALS patient himself, and the two of them began the plans for EyeControl. Shortly thereafter, Or Retzkin, whose grandmother lost her life to ALS, joined them as CEO.
EyeControl was featured by CNN as one of five startups changing the world, and recently received a $100,000 prize in a global startup competition, The Venture. They are launching a pilot program in Haifa’s Rambam hospital next month, and perfecting their camera to make it usable in sunlight. Soon, EyeControl will help locked-in patients worldwide talk with the blink of an eye.
Another MassChallenge Finalist company, Targeted Modulated Sound Therapy, or TMST, is creating an effective, noninvasive treatment for patients with spasticity. The condition causes debilitating stiffness, pain, lack of function, and, in children, potential skeletal deformation. Treatments so far have included invasive surgeries or drugs with severe side effects. TMST uses headphones and soundwaves.
Founder Debby Elnatan has been inventing mobility-increasing products since her son, Rotem, now 21, was born with cerebral palsy. Her Firefly Upsee is already getting small children out of their wheelchairs in more than 100 countries. When Rotem was in school, Debby searched for a way to help his ADD and heard about sound frequency treatments that train brainwaves to go into concentration states. Rotem tried it for one week, and something unexpected happened: his muscles, normally stiff and tight, suddenly relaxed, allowing for dramatically increased flexibility, comfort, and motion. The change was astounding, and so, after successfully reproducing the same results on two other children, Debby “tuned” the frequencies specifically for spasticity and set out to turn her discovery into a product that could help spasticity patients –those with cerebral palsy, stroke, MS, partial spinal cord injury, or brain injury.
Debby now works with a Shaare Tzedek research team to study the results of TMST. They have found that children with cerebral palsy receiving TMST improved their crawling, sitting, standing and walking skills as well as use of their hands for daily skills. And because TMST leads to greater mobility, it also makes life easier for caretakers.
Best of all? TMST requires no invasive surgery, no medication, no extensive or expensive recovery –just a smartphone app and headphones. Effective treatment for spasticity will now be easy, painless, and affordable.
MassChallenge Israel Finalists are dramatically changing the medical technology landscape. These startups are truly saving lives and creating a significant impact on the world.