Abilitech Medical: Reinvigorating Neuromuscular Conditions with Technology & Innovation
Angie Zavoral Conley, CEO
Hundreds of thousands of patients in the United States (U.S.) alone are affected by upper-limb weakness caused by neuromuscular conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy (MD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Brachial Plexus Injury (BPI), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). With no good solutions currently on the market, many individuals are unable to perform activities of daily living such as eating, using a phone or computer, or completing tasks of self-care. Faced with the loss of physical strength, independence, and ability to fully engage with friends and family, one’s quality of life declines. Recognizing the need for advancements in the treatment of neuromuscular disability, and relying on her experience as a senior product manager at Medtronic, Angie Zavoral Conley founded Abilitech Medical in 2016 to build a solution. The company was created with a mission to restore independence to patients with upper limb neuromuscular conditions by offering a one-of-a-kind wearable assistive device that allows the user to perform independent activities of daily living.
“We are creating a powered orthotic brace with an intelligent design that enhances the patient’s mobility,” says Conley. “There is a wheelchair for those who cannot use their legs, there is a prosthetic solution for those who do not have arms, but there is not a solution for the weak or injured arm. Abilitech’s vision is to create a device that restores independence for those with upper-limb neuromuscular conditions. The Abilitech™ Assist device has the potential to become the ‘wheelchair for the arms’,” adds Conley.
Designing and testing a solution to meet such a widespread need within a highly diverse population is not easy. This is not a device you can test in an animal lab and simulate different etiologies with varying levels of progressive degeneration—likely why no other company has succeeded in filling this market need. A successful solution must be safe, user friendly, lightweight and work with patient strength. The key to the Abilitech technology is using patient strength to lift different weighted objects, employing a hybrid technology approach. The Abilitech Assist device is engineered with guidance from physicians, occupational and physical therapists, patients and their caregivers, differentiating it from many technologies developed in a research lab. Multiple prototypes, bench testing, and designs were developed to determine how to best create one device that can serve all of the patients.
Conley adds “Our clinical relationships in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, HealthPartners Neuroscience Center, and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Allina Health have been incredibly supportive in helping us to understand the patient populations to deliver a meaningful clinical device. They recognize the unmet patient and clinical need and have been very collaborative in our development effort.”
We are creating a powered orthotic brace with an intelligent design that enhances the patient’s mobility
The Abilitech Assist device will be the first in-home device on the market to provide functional assistance and support to both the elbow and the shoulder. Requiring minimal intrinsic muscle strength from the patient, the unique shoulder assist allows for supported range of motion for the shoulders and elbows. The device itself is lightweight, easy to use, and comfortable.
Dr. Mark Gormley, Associate Medical Director of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, sees patients every day that could benefit from such a device. “Patients with neuromuscular conditions have historically relied on a family member or some other caregiver to help feed and care for them. If there is not a family member who can care for the patient, the costs can be astronomical,” states Dr. Gormley. A personal care attendant averages $30,000 per year for 8 hours a day and a nursing home averages $82,000 per year. Dr. Gormley adds, “Beyond the economic impact, the personal satisfaction and joy a patient has in regaining some level of independence is invaluable.”
Because Conley and her team have decades of medical device experience, solid intellectual property assets, and the passion to make a difference, the company has matured significantly since 2016. Abilitech Medical has established itself as a leader in neuromuscular disorder treatment, pioneering a product that will undeniably change the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients in the U.S. The company continues to develop new tools and solutions. In 2020, the company plans to bring to market its first FDA approved device, which will assist patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Cord Injuries, and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Additionally, in 2020, it will initiate a 75 patient multi-center clinical study of Muscular Dystrophy patients to measure patient outcomes and the impact on their quality of life with the Abilitech Assist device. In the future, Abilitech is also planning to develop its technology platform to create solutions for patients with Stroke damage, Brachial Plexus Injury, Parkinson’s, and rotator cuff injuries.
The Abilitech Medical team is dedicated to helping restore independence to patients with neurological disorders. “Our mission of empowering people to live more independently and improve their quality of life is what motivates me and my team.” concludes Conley.
Description Abilitech Medical is one of the medical device companies that are launching a product that appears directly out of science fiction at first blush for patients with very restricted mobility, such as those suffering from MS, muscle dystrophy, ALS and spinal cord injury. Their first device increases patient function by helping individuals feed themselves, undertake self-care duties, and literally open doors to fresh possibilities. Significantly less time is spent on the accomplishment of the device to the patient
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