Innovation

Virtual-Reality Goggles for Stroke Victims

MindMaze can help patients retain their brain and regain motor functions

A motion-sensing camera projects a patient’s avatar onto its VR goggles or a PC screen. Through as many as 32 electrodes placed on his head, the patient can command his virtual arm to lift a glass or his virtual leg to kick.

A motion-sensing camera projects a patient’s avatar onto its VR goggles or a PC screen. Through as many as 32 electrodes placed on his head, the patient can command his virtual arm to lift a glass or his virtual leg to kick.

Photographer: Yann Gross for Bloomberg Businessweek

Innovator: Tej Tadi, Chief executive officer of three-year-old startup MindMaze in Ecublens, Switzerland.

Age: 34

Form and function: MindMaze says its virtual-reality goggles, combined with exercise software and other games, can help stroke patients retrain their brain and regain motor function faster than with traditional physical therapy.

Background: Tadi earned a bachelor’s in electronics engineering and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from EPFL, a Swiss engineering school in Lausanne.

Market: About 15 million people suffer strokes every year, the World Heart Federation estimates.

Price: MindMaze’s package of hardware and software costs $85,000 to purchase or a minimum of $2,500 a month to rent. Three Swiss hospitals are testing the gear so far, Tadi says.

Funding: MindMaze has raised $8.5 million from angel investors it wouldn’t name and through Swiss government grants.

Training: The exercises fool the patient’s brain into activating neurons and areas that can take over functions of the damaged ones. Tadi says that in a 20-person clinical trial, patients using the equipment two and a half hours a day for three weeks improved their motor function by as much as 35 percent.

Next Steps: Tadi says MindMaze will submit its system for Food and Drug Administration approval this summer and move to San Francisco by yearend. The startup’s 16 full-time employees will release a home version of its equipment later this year, he says. Elliot Roth, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University, says VR is a logical next step for stroke therapy and can help patients move in a more natural fashion than typical basic exercises.

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