Eythor Bender – TRANSCRIPT
We live in amazing times, where superhumans are among us and nowhere is that better to be seen than at the Paralympics. What was amazing of the last Paralympics Games, was that they were sold out in London. And through bionic technology, they are simply re-enabling the disabled. So much so that they are even accused of having an unfair advantage. So this is not fiction, it is here. But it hasn’t always been like that. There are only like 20, 30 years that people thought about prosthetic devices in this way.
Some used to be wooden sticks and that was really the image of this when I entered this industry. And now it has moved over to this Sarah Reinertsen, a good friend of mine, who completed the Iron Man in 2005 in a little over 16 hours. She’s amputated above the knee. Yes, truly amazing.
Even here locally, Lacey Henderson took the stage here with me two years ago. She’s a local and graduated from the University of Denver two years ago. And she is a Paralympian. This development started with inventors like Van Philips from Southern California and others from Iceland, Sweden, and beyond. They have created, for instance, this leg.
Van Phillips really created it for himself originally, he wanted a running leg, and it became this famous blade. We have taken this technology over to what we call sometimes bionics or active bionics. They are really devices that are powered or enabled with sensing technology and batteries and so on. It’s very exciting and is among us. It’s being used.
It’s fashion nowadays. It’s just cool to show off the prosthetic device. I’ve even heard people, kids saying, “I want something like that.” Again, it wasn’t always like this. Back in Vietnam, we were accused of not taking very good care of our soldiers.
That has completely flipped to the other side. Now, people like Scott here is flying back his F-16, although he is amputated above the knee and has a leg from Germany called C-Leg. We are continuing to pump money into research DoD, as well as DARPA, funded a major project, 100 million dollars to help people to get back their hands. So about five years ago, in 2008, we started turning our heads towards people. I’d like to refer to as the super enabled, but let us come back to that later.
As you can see the prices have jumped staggeringly up to about 60 even 100,000 dollars. It’s not uncommon. As I said, five years ago, we turned our heads towards the superbraves, people who are really outrageous in many ways, and there is a reason to that; they oftentimes end up in a wheelchair. We are talking about the spinal cord injuries. So we thought OK, if you can do this really for people using prosthetic devices, and we can get them into running in the Olympics Games, why not try to get paralyzed people to walk our wheelchairs? Teaming up with people in the Bay Area, UC Berkeley, MIT and others, New Zealand as well, we were able to finally come up with a fantastic innovation, exoskeletons or bionic suits that we introduced at a TED Conference about two years ago.
This is Amanda Boxtel, who actually sustained her spinal cord injury up in Aspen, Colorado and had not walked for 20 years. And you see her walking there. Truly amazing experiences and successes. But the issue is still the price. 150,000 dollars is the ticket price for one bionic suit, so it is a pretty expensive car.
We introduced this for the first time into rehabilitation centers and the first one was Craig Hospital, here in Denver. Absolutely leading in spinal cord injury in the world. And as this development continues further, we will see these devices getting smaller. We can see here that Parker-Honeywell a major conglomerate, a 13 billion-dollar company, is also pushing forward to this. So we’ll see these technologies changing very fast, a whole industry is forming.
From Japan, it looks more like Star Wars. But it’s actually intended for stroke survivors. And back in UC Berkeley where we are working, this is also for soldiers to help them carry more weight so that they wouldn’t sustain injuries. That was another development. Great.
This is fantastic. Successful Paralympians, successful soldiers or an aid for trauma patients of spinal cord injuries. It can’t be really said that this isn’t a good start, but this is really the tip of the iceberg. These are the people who need devices to simply live, but what about the people who need devices like the bionic ones to survive? You have to go down below, you have to look at the masses, which really are the aging population and obesity. We’re talking about what research in osteoarthritis confirmed, that one in five Americans is suffering from osteoarthritis and therefore have gait issues or other mobility issues.
Stroke, one million people are paralyzed in this country alone because of stroke. And then diabetes, we want to focus on here, 12 million people get amputated because of diabetes. One in every 12 Americans have diabetes. This is going to be one out of three in 2050.
So, what is the issue here? Why can’t we get them to walk? Well, it is very difficult to walk on one leg. I was actually thinking about having all of you hopping on one leg and show me how to do it. It is even more challenging if you are diabetic 80% of all amputees are diabetic. Less than 50% actually manage to walk. 50% of them lose their other leg very quickly after losing the first one. And finally, most of them die within 5 years, because they aren’t simple able to turn around their life and it’s not bionic.
And obviously, these devices that I was showing you are hugely different when it comes to what we can pay for diabetics and what I showed you before. So this remains non-reimbursable for the most part. Because the health care system is asking more and more, if we even try to put these devices on these people, we need some kind of proof that shows, “Are these people really more active? Are we really even preventing diabetes? Are they really losing weight?” We looked at this and now with a new team of people actually here in Boulder, the epicenter of health and wellness, we’re teaming up again, focusing not entirely now on the technology but more on the journey that somebody actually loses his leg because of diabetes or obesity. And things are OK, this is a wake-up call.
I lost my leg, I better do something about that. It’s not going to be everybody, but there’s a bunch of people out there that comes to me constantly and say, “What do I do then?” And we don’t really have the tools or the products to help them. So we have decided to form an initiative that will help people who cannot enter into a program that will give them advice in the beginning before they get fitted with a leg. And these legs will be designed specifically for this population. They will be truly bionic, it will be easy to walk on.
Walking feet, not running feet. You just need to get around, like this foot here, it will be one of the first ones designed by a local inventor, Jerome Rifkin, absolutely brilliant. And coupled with this, we will offer a coaching program that it will be partly on-line and then off-line to give people advice, not only on how to walk again but also on nutrition and other issues in life. Very important is this tracking and being able to monitor people on a regular basis. So built-in into these devices will be several tracking systems and also Wi-fi weight scales will be used.
Tracking systems in the prosthetic devices as well as glucose meters to measure insulin intake, hopefully to reduce the insulin intake. People would go through this program for 6 months and then enter into life. Further they will be connected through social media with their peers, family members. My mother-in-law is actually wearing a brace herself, and I’m always asking her, “Are you walking with it?” And she keeps telling me, “Yeah, yeah, I’m walking with it” But I’m not quite sure.
So this will be a way to help a little bit with that; and then the patients will be tracked also by the clinicians. They will be monitored and people will be able to give a much more proactive service throughout the day. Really like the experience of up and gone, and we will never see you again. It will be a little different. Nowadays it is about: OK, it’s very exciting to introduce a cool technology, but it’s not enough.