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For Stroke Victims, Jintronix Software Turns Rehab Into a Game

Each year about 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke, and many who survive need months, even years, of intensive therapy to recover and then retain muscle function. Frequently, they have trouble getting to outpatient physical therapy sessions or doing exercises correctly at home. Insurance coverage is often insufficient.

“Therapy options are limited and expensive, and we just don’t have enough therapists,” says Aaron Bunnell, an attending physician in the department of physical and rehabilitation medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Bunnell’s hospital is among the first in the U.S. to test Jintronix, a subscription-based set of PC games and exercises designed to stimulate recovery using Microsoft’s (MSFT) Kinect, a motion-sensing camera created for use with the company’s Xbox game consoles. The Kinect’s motion tracker allows players to interact with what they see on the screen.

Montreal-based Jintronix, founded in 2010, was expected to announce on May 9 that it’s received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to package its software and the Kinect for Windows as a medical device. Jintronix sells the Kinect for the standard $250 and charges $50 a month for its software, which lets physical therapists program routines for patients and adjust the difficulty as mobility improves.

In one game, the player controls a fish and must motion up and down or draw a figure eight to make it eat. A whack-a-mole-style game designed to strengthen leg muscles asks the patient to walk to various parts of the screen when a bunny pops up. As the patient moves, Jintronix tracks whether he’s performing the exercises correctly so therapists can make tweaks. The software monitors each patient’s progress and compares it with that of people with similar injuries and ages. Yannick Belanger, 44, says it has helped him recover some mobility in his left arm since his stroke in September. “The minute you sit your ass down and you do nothing, that’s when you have a problem,” he says.

Jintronix was founded by six friends from Montreal after one of them, biomedical engineer Justin Tan, tried to help his father recover from a stroke that paralyzed half his body. Although Tan’s father regained most of his motor function, the struggle to accommodate his therapeutic needs convinced Tan and the other Jintronix founders that stroke victims needed a more accessible means of rehab. Daniel Schacter, co-founder and chief operating officer, says the idea was to “provide doctors and clinicians a tool to speed up the process, make it more engaging, and help the patient recover faster and better.” Their early efforts centered on Nintendo’s (7974:JP) Wii remote, but Microsoft’s 2012 release of a version of the Kinect for Windows led the group to use that system, Schacter says. The company joined a Microsoft startup accelerator that year and applied for FDA approval in March 2013.

Private investors and Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group have provided nine-employee Jintronix with about $1.3 million in funding. The U.S. Army is starting a pilot project to experiment with the software in veterans’ homes. Schacter says the company is in talks with a top U.S. therapy equipment supplier, and at least one insurer is testing rental plans for policyholders. He wouldn’t name them.

Jintronix is starting to move beyond stroke therapies into postsurgical and injury rehab, and plans to expand into telemedicine, Schacter says. The company may eventually use devices other than the Kinect. For now it’s focused on patients such as Belanger and Charlotte Jacob-Maguire, a 23-year-old Montreal native whose right side was paralyzed by a stroke three weeks before she was due to matriculate at Oxford last fall. In the spring, she was still struggling to regain movement in her right arm, so her occupational therapist at the University of Montreal’s Gingras-Lindsay Rehabilitation Institute suggested Jacob-Maguire sign up for a Jintronix study.

Having spent about a month with the Kinect games, Jacob-Maguire has regained some arm mobility, although she still cannot use her hand except for the thumb. She’s getting a Jintronix setup at home to continue her therapy. “It gave me hope,” she says. If her progress continues, she hopes to start at Oxford this fall.

The bottom line: Jintronix, recently FDA-approved, uses games and the Microsoft Kinect to supplement therapy for stroke victims.

Bass is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Seattle.

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