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Dr. Albert Kwon, CEO of Brainnovations Winner AUGMENTx, wants to harness Augmented Reality to significantly ease access to Neurological Rehabilitation Therapies

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Albert, what sur­prised you the most from the Judges’ ques­tions and feed­back dur­ing the Brain­no­va­tions Pitch Con­test?

It was a pleas­ant sur­prise to receive so many votes and such great feed­back, which solid­i­fied my con­vic­tion that there is a great need to cre­ate new ther­a­py options for stroke patients and oth­er neu­ro­log­i­cal injuries, espe­cial­ly giv­en our aging pop­u­la­tion.  Med­ical sys­tems world­wide will strug­gle to han­dle the grow­ing bur­den of chron­ic ill­ness­es unless we start act­ing soon.

In a nut­shell, what is the core idea behind AUG­MEN­Tx?

The core idea is to lever­age visu­al-cog­ni­tive and visu­al-motor/sen­so­ry con­nec­tions of the brain to enhance per­for­mance in dis­ease states.  For exam­ple, mir­ror ther­a­py takes advan­tage of the mir­ror neu­ron path­way to improve post-stroke motor recov­ery and to alle­vi­ate phan­tom limb pain in limb amputees.  And we believe that these ther­a­pies can be deliv­ered on dig­i­tized AR plat­forms, instead of being always con­fined to few spe­cial­ized phys­i­cal reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ters.  Why not have them be acces­si­ble from the patient’s home, espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas where there is often no access to any kind of rehab?

When and how did the idea come to you?

I real­ized the poten­tial of aug­ment­ed real­i­ty at a hackathon event at MIT, after a gru­el­ing 28 hour hos­pi­tal shift.  My co-founders had cre­at­ed a proof-of-con­cept pro­to­type and pre­sent­ed it to me when I vis­it­ed the demo sta­tion. It was a rev­e­la­tion, since a week pri­or I had had dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing mir­ror ther­a­py for a patient suf­fer­ing from phan­tom limb pain in my clin­ic — and the patient ulti­mate­ly lost inter­est in going to the one hos­pi­tal I some­how man­aged to find.  That is when I knew I want­ed to help them bring aug­ment­ed real­i­ty into clin­i­cal prac­tice.

What’s your vision for Brain Health in 2025 and how do you envi­sion AUG­MEN­Tx as part of it?

As a physi­cian, I am cer­tain that Brain Health is and will con­tin­ue to be the most impor­tant med­ical prob­lem we must address col­lec­tive­ly.  In 2025, I imag­ine the pres­sure to improve brain health out­comes while con­tain­ing health­care cost will rise, so I see great oppor­tu­ni­ties for tech­nolo­gies such as aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, IoT, wear­ables, and mobile dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics all con­tribut­ing to opti­miz­ing the health­care deliv­ery process and ben­e­fit­ing many patients.

How are you fund­ing the com­pa­ny so far, and are you plan­ning to raise funds this year? 

The co-founders of AUG­MEN­Tx have boot­strapped our com­pa­ny thus far and suc­cess­ful­ly built an MVP aug­ment­ed real­i­ty ther­a­py plat­form that is ready for pilot stud­ies in stroke patients and chron­ic pain patients; we have even start­ed to sell our ther­a­py plat­form as a research tool to aca­d­e­m­ic hos­pi­tals.  How­ev­er, the pro­ject­ed expense for run­ning our three pilot clin­i­cal stud­ies large­ly exceed our pro­ject­ed sales this year, so we are kick­ing off our equi­ty seed fundrais­ing as we speak.

How do you/ will you val­i­date that your solu­tions do what they are sup­posed to?

We are plan­ning three fea­si­bil­i­ty pilot stud­ies and aim to start recruit­ing patients in the sec­ond half of the year.  Our main inter­est is test­ing whether our ther­a­py may have the same ben­e­fi­cial out­comes for stroke patients that tra­di­tion­al mir­ror ther­a­py has, so we are in active dis­cus­sions with pre­mier aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions regard­ing run­ning our pilot stud­ies with domain experts on stroke motor recov­ery and post-stroke chron­ic pain.

Tell us a cou­ple excit­ing things you’re plan­ning for 2018

Besides the fundrais­ing and clin­i­cal stud­ies, we are look­ing for­ward to rig­or­ous­ly test­ing the lim­its of cur­rent smart­phones on which we wish to deploy our aug­ment­ed real­i­ty ther­a­py.  If we suc­ceed, we expect to bring down the cost of our ther­a­py sys­tem by an order of mag­ni­tude and allow many more patients to access our spe­cial­ized neu­ro­log­i­cal reha­bil­i­ta­tion ther­a­pies at home.

What are some key road­blocks ahead, and how are you plan­ning to address them?

The biggest chal­lenge in med­i­cine is build­ing the appro­pri­ate clin­i­cal evi­dence to ensure our approach ben­e­fits patients.  The co-founders at AUG­MEN­Tx knows that this will take sig­nif­i­cant effort, time, and cap­i­tal … and we are ready to take on the quite daunt­ing chal­lenge.

If you could go back in time to, say, 5–10 years ago, what advice would you have liked to receive?

At that time, I was a med­ical stu­dent bare­ly keep­ing up with the immense amount of new med­ical infor­ma­tion I had to digest.  I wish some­one had told me to look beyond my med­ical text­books and to under­stand the chal­lenges of health­care deliv­ery sys­tems.  I think I would have had a bet­ter appre­ci­a­tion of the vast oppor­tu­ni­ties where tech­nol­o­gy can cre­ate val­ue for health­care.

Final­ly, if I may, what do you do to stay sharp 🙂

I exer­cise reg­u­lar­ly and spend two hours week­ly doing inter­net research on top­ics that spon­ta­neous­ly inter­est me in the moment, includ­ing non-med­ical top­ics such as par­ti­cle physics or ancient Egypt­ian his­to­ry. You nev­er run out of inter­est­ing things to explore!

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Dr. Albert Kwon, Co-Founder & CEO of AUG­MEN­Tx, is an MIT and Har­vard trained biol­o­gist, pedi­a­tri­cian, and anes­the­si­ol­o­gist. After com­plet­ing his res­i­den­cies at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal and Boston Children’s Hos­pi­tal, he will fur­ther spe­cial­ize in pain med­i­cine at Stan­ford. He has exten­sive basic sci­ence and engi­neer­ing research expe­ri­ence in drug deliv­ery, tis­sue engi­neer­ing and regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine with pio­neer­ing researchers at MIT and Har­vard.

Thanks to his great pitch and answers dur­ing the 2017 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit (slid­edeck avail­able below), AUG­MEN­Tx was select­ed as the Top Brain­no­va­tion to Improve Brain Health.

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