A Vest as a Walking Aid
By Angelika Finkenwirth
The start-up Remod has developed a device that can keep people paralyzed on one side out of the wheelchair. The source of the idea was a mother of a person affected by the condition.
When running you can just about see it: Dindia Gutmann seems to limp a bit, probably a broken hip one would think if they met the young woman on the street. In fact, the 24-year-old is paralyzed on one side due to a stroke. Despite this however she can move surprisingly normally. A little black vest that she wears around her shoulders is helping her. Sensors are mounted in the vest, which are connected via cable with two electrodes attached above and below the collarbone. Hemiparesis patients sense the centre of the body differently and therefore often have a tilted posture. “The device gives me an unpleasant impulse which reminds me to straighten up,“ says Dindia. With daily physiotherapy exercises and many years of work she has learned to move again. The device helps her to control these movements. She can lead a normal life again, goes hiking often, travels alone and can to the disco.
In the meantime, more patients have tested this device which is on the way to the market. From economics student Dindia the start-up Remod was formed, which works for the development and commercialisation of the pulse generator. Renowned medical technicians and rehabilitation experts of the TU Berlin are advising the team. The prototype has already been awarded several prizes, the creators were supported by the Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy, the European Social Fund and a EXIST grant from the European Union. The device could give confidence to a large number with 20 percent of people experiencing a stroke in their lifetime. About half of them subsequently suffer from hemiparesis.
From torch to minicomputers
So far for these people there has been no appropriate therapy or aids. Dindias mother Anna also discovered this. During the sixth month of pregnancy Dindias suffered a stroke while in her mother’s stomach and so was born paralysed on one side. „She lay a lot and suffered from spasticity, physically she was not doing well. Also mentally her condition became more serious. At age ten Dindia was considered as being incurable and should be in a wheelchair,“ says Anna Gutmann. This was unacceptable to her as a mother. She began to fiddle about: „hemiparesis patients have a residual sense, but do not notice when they have a tilted posture. So I had to find something that could measure whether something was horizontal. I bought all sorts of electronic devices that seemed somehow appropriate and finally came across a mercury switch, which responds to tilt. “
And thus Anna Gutmann’s first invention was born: they attached the switch to a flashlight, combined everything with sensors and stuck the creation to her child’s clothes. Whenever Dindia posture was tilted, the lamp began to light up. „Perhaps that was embarrassing,“ recalls the young woman and laughs. But the effect was enormous: she straightened up. The second that followed was a device with an acoustic signal, which was no less conspicuous. „I knew that my inventions were much too big, but yet they had a positive effect. As I walked past a poster advertising the Long Night of Science, I knew to whom I would turn for a finer version,“ says Anna Gutmann, who is actually a painter. She went to TU medical technician Wolfram Roßdeutscher, who was taken with the idea. That was eight years ago.
Meanwhile, a prototype is ready to be marketed. It includes an easy-to-use computer that can be programmed by doctors for different medical conditions. Now the search for financing opportunities is at full speed, as in four months Remod receives no more funding and the company must stand on its own feet. „So far we have only found interested parties who pursue an exit strategy. However we do not want that. We are looking for people who want to get involved long term,“ says Anna Gutmann. As no investor has been found so far, Remod wants to initiate a crowdfunding campaign and hopes to raise the financial resources needed to the start the company.
Initially the creators are planning to produce 50 devices with the sale price being around 3,000 Euro. This represents a cost much lower than other bio-feedback devices, which cost an average of 5,000 Euro. There are also already ideas for other products in the works.