Igniter funding via UW-Madison's Discovery to Product (D2P) initiative
backs commercialization of Gruben's new device
designed to help stroke victims regain ability to walk
Ask Kreg Gruben where he acquired the skills to build the prototype for a device he believes can revolutionize the rehabilitation process for those who struggle to walk after suffering a stroke, and he notes his engineering background. He adds that he grew up on his family’s farm, where “one tends to learn how to make what is needed.”
He then points to a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Spend time chatting with Gruben and poking around his Biomechanics Laboratory — which resembles a cross between a faculty office, an inventor’s lab and a high school industrial arts workshop — and it’s obvious this faculty member with UW–Madison’s Department of Kinesiology has plenty of both.
Add in the fact that Gruben has spent well over a decade characterizing the biomechanics and neural control of how people walk, and it’s easy to see why his cutting-edge machine that’s designed to train muscle coordination to restore walking ability captured the attention of the university’s Discovery to Product initiative (D2P), which is a new partnership between UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). At its core, D2P is intended to provide faculty and students with funding and an easy-to-access gateway to a range of resources that can help transform discoveries into companies and products to boost Wisconsin’s economy.
Gruben’s technology — which currently exists in the form of a prototype machine — is presently called KIINCE, which is an acronym for Kinetic Immersive Interface for Neuromuscular Coordination Enhancement.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people about this concept and received a great positive response concerning its potential, so we’re very excited,” says Gruben, whose KIINCE team also includes serial entrepreneur and start-up CEO Patrick Walters, and Wendy Boehm, a doctoral candidate with the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Indeed, in August the team received word from entrepreneur and D2P Director John Biondi that KIINCE would be receiving financial support via Igniter funding, placing Gruben’s product in the inaugural class of D2P-backed initiatives and putting it on a fast track for commercialization.
The current in-house designed and built prototype began as an elliptical exercise machine that was modified with patented sensors mounted to the footplates. It also incorporates a bicycle seat, a computer and software written by Boehm that analyzes the footplate data. There also is a motor that can alter footplate motion and a monitor that provides a visual display of the angles of force a user is exerting when using the machine to help guide the person toward the desired muscle coordination.
“This is completely different from anything else that is out there,” says Boehm.
While many take walking without falling for granted, this task is often difficult for those recovering from stroke — a leading cause of adult disabilities in the United States. And according to the current literature on stroke recovery, notes Gruben, standard rehabilitation methods generally fail to restore normal use of the legs during rehabilitation.
KIINCE is designed to train muscle coordination to restore walking ability in those who have suffered a stroke, which is significantly different from any currently available device. The key is the patented technology in the footplate, which senses the muscular coordination of the patient and then acts as a control switch that only allows the machine to move if the patient produces the correct muscular coordination.
Prior to building the initial prototype in late May, Gruben had spent the bulk of his academic career designing novel instruments that allow his lab to analyze both the biomechanics of how people walk, and how the brain controls leg muscles during walking. And while this work has led to numerous published papers, advanced the science in this field of study and led to the patent for a device that can measure foot force and direction, this new drive to produce a product that can be taken to market and someday help restore walking is especially invigorating, says Gruben.
With the Igniter funding and D2P backing, Gruben hopes to be able to develop commercially viable machines — or to collect enough evidence that this technology is successful with stroke patients so it can be sold to others to build the clinical product.
“We are grateful for this support and excited that it will allow us to focus on better understanding how our unique perspectives on walking and stroke can be translated into a therapy to restore walking and promote quality of life in the millions of Americans living with the effects of a stroke,” says Gruben.