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Virtual Reality Service For Elders Wins Grand Prize at Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovation Conference

Earlier this month at the student-run Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovation Conference pitch competition, eight teams consisting of at least one student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Harvard, or Tufts, vied for a $25,000 grand prize by pitching their technological alternatives to costly health solutions.

Students and other team members had just three minutes to pitch their plans, which tackled issues including dementia, elder care, amputation, carpal tunnel syndrome, and urinary incontinence.

Rendever, a team led by two MIT Sloan School of Management students, took first place for its mission to aid dementia patients with virtual reality. Co-Founders Reed Hayes and Dennis Lally pitched the VR program used to entertain and evaluate elderly patients dealing with symptoms of dementia.

“We’re using virtual reality to improve the way we age, so you don’t become isolated, don’t become depressed, and you can keep your mind happy and healthy,” Lally explained

Lally, the chief executive officer, said that a patient with cognitive issues, such as dementia, puts on virtual reality headset and is given ten tasks within their virtual experience. Based on the patient’s performance, their level of cognition can be further analyzed by healthcare experts.

This method, “allows us to provide earlier interventions and measure the efficacy of the drugs that she’s taking to help treat this disease,” Lally said.

Along with the patient’s experience, Lally noted that caregivers would also gain VR training with this program.

“The quality of care that [a patient is] given is highly correlated with the quality of education and training provided to her caregivers. So we’re providing virtual reality training to these caregivers. Now they can put on a virtual reality headset and understand what it’s like to have dementia, or how to deal with someone who’s agitated because of the symptoms of dementia,” Lally expanded.

After receiving the prize, Lally and Hayes said they came up with the idea after watching elderly relatives deal with their own cognitive issues. “We just saw how difficult it can be,” Hayes added.

The second-time pitch applicants and first-time finalists said they plan to continue developing the product and are still researching its effectiveness on patients in Boston-area nursing homes.

The five judging criteria were impact, traction, feasibility, novelty, and market strategy. In addition to Rendever, two other finalists also took home awards.

The $4,000 runner-up was Need-A-Knee, which created Revex, a patent-pending, affordable artificial knee for amputees.

Similarly to Need-A-Knee, finalist Manus Robotics pitched another affordable option for those with limited limb. This device was a robotic gripper made to aid stroke survivors or others with impaired hand functions.

The $1,000 audience-favorite award went to Day Zero Diagnostics, a product and algorithm that uses genome sequencing and machine learning to identify early signs of viruses. While the team said that they do not plan to submit the service for FDA approval until 2021, their team of doctors and PhDs has further developed the service with assistance from experts at Mass. General Hospital.

While Day Zero aimed to diagnose viruses, Neurosleeve members pitched a glove which monitors and detects hand function issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. Another finalist, Patients Like This, presented a mental health tool which tracks electronic health data and records which a health expert or caregiver can analyze.

The other two finalists were CareMobile Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company which has already opened doors in Washington D.C., and #1, a pad and connected mobile app which aids older males with floor muscle training while measuring urinary incontinence caused by surgery, health, or age-related issues.

Maddie Thoms, Vice President of the pitch competition and Co-President of the Sloan Healthcare Club, said her team picked through 50 pitch applicants. Out of the 16 semi-finalists, eight were selected to move forward in Thursday’s finals.

Along with feedback from venture capital experts, finalists were also given the opportunity to attend a workshop at MIT’s Martin Trust School of Entrepreneurship prior to the final event, Thoms added.

The Second Annual Sloan Healthcare Innovations Prize competition kicked off the student co-ordinated Sloan Healthcare and BioInnovation Conference, which ran through Friday offering events including the MIT Hacking Medical Design Thinking Workshop, Patient Activation Through Mobile Consumer Health, and keynote speeches from Bringham Health President Betsy Nobel as well as Optum CEO Larry Renfro.

Thoms said that this annual conference and competition is a way for students to work with experts in the community as well as classmates from other majors. “Participants are not just business students. They are students from all different areas of MIT.” she expanded.

While judges from companies including Optum, athenahealth, Rock Health, and Flare, deliberated on the pitch winners, Master of Ceremonies and Optum Ventures’ Chief Product Officer A.G. Breitenstein spoke about the current, high-priced state of the U.S. healthcare system.

“What’s interesting is how much we spend on a product we don’t like. People talk about U.S. health care spending all the time, and I looked it up. By itself, it’s the fifth largest economy in the world,” she said.

Despite current health care dilemmas, Breitenstein explained that innovators may find an open space to develop products that help people at affordable prices.

“There’s major prices, major problems, but a major opportunity,” she said.

Pamela Bump

Pamela Bump

    Pamela Bump is a candidate for the Master of Science in Media Ventures at Boston University. After receiving a B.A. for a dual major in Journalism and Communication Studies from Keene State College in 2014, she became the Web Editor and Social Media Expert at Taste for Life Magazine, an alternative health publication. She then served as Copy Editor at The Keene Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Keene, N.H. While editing daily city news and designing pages for print, she also managed, edited, and contributed to a weekly health section.As a Media Ventures student with a passion for health journalism, Pamela hopes to use her time at MedTech to expand storytelling skills, while learning about leadership and innovation in the media-startup industry.

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