Horses, in addition to being magnificent creatures, are also apparently very efficient walkers.
That led a Cleveland Clinic researcher to take inspiration from the animal’s anatomy to develop a device that aims to help patients with impaired walking to be able to lead independent lives again. The technology was licensed to Cadence Biomedical, a Seattle startup, which began to sell the medical orthosis product under the name of Kickstart in July.
“[The researcher] discovered that the reason that horses are so much more efficient at walking and running than humans is because they have very long tendons. Humans have short tendons that stretch across a single joint and horses have long tendons that stretch across multiple joints,” explained Brian Glaister, founder, president and CEO of Cadence Bionedical. “So (the researcher thought) why don’t we put a very long spring on a human and see if it makes them more efficient walkers and sure enough it does.”
What’s unique about the product is that it is an unpowered device designed to put a spring in your step – literally by mimicking – the functioning of tendons.
“A tendon is like a spring – it stretches and it stores energy and then it returns it to facilitate walking,” he said.
The Kickstart device employs the same principle and helps people with weak hip flexors to swing the leg up and forward to take the next step.
Glaister contends that no unpowered orthosis product in the marketplace can match Kickstart’s ability to make walking easy again. Knee braces and similar products only offer support to the knee and joints, he said, but don’t really help with hip flexion.
“There are few options for people with weak hip flexors,” he said. “It’s a huge, unserved market and there aren’t any adequate solutions out there. And if you can’t flex your hips, you can’t hoist your legs up the ground and you can’t walk very far. That’s something patients really want if they want to be active and independent.”
Devices like Honda’s robotic technology powered Stride Management Assist helps people with weakened leg muscles because of aging or injury or other causes to walk, but Glaister contends that these types of products are prohibitively expensive.
“There are robotic exoskeletons that are coming out can help with hip flexion but they are $100,000 and its going to be very hard to get one out there to everyone that could benefit,” he said. “We have an unpowered device that still provide assistance to these muscle groups and it can keep it an affordable price point [and be] accessible to a wide variety of patients.”
The price of one Kickstart is around $7,800 and would be a boon for the 2.3 million people suffering from an inability to walk because of neurological conditions.
Patients can obtain a Kickstart through their orthotist, who casts the leg in a fiber glass mold that then gets shipped to Cadence. Cadence uses the mold to create a Kickstart to fit the patient.
A couple of army grants and a small angel round of funding have helped Cadence Biomedical move out of Glaister’s basement where the company was founded. The company of five full-time employees doesn’t currently need any additional money. The goal is now to ramp up in the areas of manufacturing and clinical education. Glaister is also trying to sell the product to the Veteran’s Administration.
“We think the device could have a really big impact on new, returning veterans and even some older ones that have are developing degenerative diseases that are having trouble later in their lives,” he said.