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Seattle-based Cadence Biomedical gets wheelchair-bound people walking

Awardee Story Seattle-based Cadence Biomedical gets wheelchair-bound people walking
Date: Apr 16, 2013
Author: Valerie Bauman
Source: bizjournals ( click here to go to the source)

Heather Montag has been relying on people for help since her diagnosis with ALS (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in the late 1980s.

But a new product from Seattle-based Cadence Biomedical is giving her a new chance at independence.

The Kickstart Walking System looks like a leg brace and works with springs connected to pulleys attached at the hip flexor and the ankle. So far, it’s helped dozens of people start walking again after they had spent years in wheelchairs.

“It’s like my nerves and muscles remember what it used to feel like to get in a rhythm of walking,” Montag said in an email interview. “I’m constantly exhilarated.”

The Kickstart doesn't have any motors or electronic components, and all of the parts are designed, manufactured and customized in Washington state. Sarco Precision in Mt. Vernon manufactures the 35 custom machine components of the device, and Independent Tech Service in Sumner assembles and customizes each device to fit the patient.

Brian Glaister and Jason Schoen cofounded the company in Glaister’s basement in 2007, but it really gained momentum in 2009 when Dr. A.J. van den Bogert, then working at the Cleveland Clinic, contacted them about an idea and patent he had that became the basis for Kickstart.

Bogert wasn’t in a place to commercialize the concept, so Cadence licensed it and got to work making it a reality.

They built the first prototype in 2010, with about $1,000 worth of hardware parts.

Now they estimate Kickstart could serve a market of 2.3 million people in the U.S. They have been able to move quickly, because it’s a non-invasive device and doesn’t require FDA approval.

The company raised $1.7 million in startup capital from angel investors and another $600,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The Kickstart just became available for patients in September 2012, so the company isn’t turning a profit yet.

Montag has been using Kickstart to strengthen her muscles and practice walking in short spurts. Eventually she’s hoping it can give her the freedom she craves.

The device is worn over clothing on one or both legs. It’s strapped on at the waist, thigh, calf and foot, and helps propel the leg forward with each step. The Kickstart can help people with stroke, traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis, among other injuries and ailments.

“I could accomplish so many … tasks,” Montag said. “Simple things really, like getting a glass of water, answering the door, checking my makeup. And ultimately, walking on the beach with my husband, shopping in Bellevue Square with my mom and daughter, or tooling around Redmond Town Center.”

Patients who want to try a Kickstart can be prescribed one by their doctor or an orthotist (a specialist in orthotic and prosthetic treatments). Some insurance companies are paying for part or all of the device, and veterans can get a Kickstart at no cost through insurance coverage.

Glaister, Cadence’s president and CEO, recalled the first time the team fitted Montag with a Kickstart, and when she took her first steps.

“You could just see the look on her face,” he said. “I think we all went home feeling like we had done our good deed for the month.”

Glaister, 32, was previously a Mary Switzer Fellow with the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, where he developed new prosthetic technology for lower-limb amputees.

He grew frustrated because when patients asked about getting access to the technologies he was working on, he had to tell them it was pretty unlikely to happen. Academic projects rarely left the lab. Cadence gave him a chance to create products that could actually help people in his lifetime.

Schoen, 30, is the vice president of product development. He previously worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Healthcare System developing and evaluating new technologies for lower-limb amputees.

The team is already working on new product ideas -- including a prosthetic device that would provide sensory feedback for amputees so they could feel when their new feet touch the ground.

For now, though, Kickstart is Cadence’s signature product, and the company is focused on improving it and making it available around the country.

“We have dramatically improved the lives of dozens of people,” Glaister said. “And there’s millions more out there.”

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