Early diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can be the difference between mild home treatments and surgery, and in worst case scenarios, a permanent loss of function in the hand. New MIT startup NeuroSleeve won the $10,000 Daniel M. Lewin Accelerate Prize Feb. 15 with the promise of increasing early detection and reducing $1 billion in carpal tunnel surgical costs each year.
Developed by a medical doctor and an electrical and robotics engineer, NeuroSleeve’s pitch to a panel of judges on the MIT campus included a live demonstration of its prototype. While some Accelerate competition participants presented products long in development, Matthew Carey and Louwai Muhammed only began theirs in December when their concept was accepted into the competition.
Muhammed, a doctor now studying neuroscience at MIT, saw the need for a cheaper, easier, more portable diagnosis when working with a patient he saw in London. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when the main nerve in the hand gets caught between the bones and ligaments in the wrist, leading to pain and numbness. Treatment is easy when caught early, often just a period of wearing a splint, rest, and ice. Without early diagnosis, treatment rises to steroid injections or surgery.
“But only if the disease is picked up early enough,” Muhammed said. “In the case of the patient I saw in London, this is exactly what did not happen. Living in a developing country, he had been complaining of pain and numbness for years. By the time we saw him, he had developed permanent and debilitating loss of function in the nerve.”
Muhammed teamed with Carey, MBA ’17, and the pair developed a portable testing device they expect to produce for $300, as opposed to $30,000 for current hospital diagnostic machinery. The device can be used by nurses without the specialized training necessary with existing technology, they said. It resembles a wrist splint tied to electronics, and sends small electrical impulses directly into the nerve, causing the thumb to visibly twitch, and reads the strength of the impulses on the other end.
During the Accelerate period, when participants engage with mentors, develop prototypes, and conduct customer research, the NeuroSleeve team connected with medical device manufacturers and researched paths for Food and Drug Administration approval. The business potential appears by reducing the costs of carpal tunnel diagnosis and treatment for hospitals, but they also stressed that the device could benefit society by reducing productivity losses among office and factory workers.
Hacker-combating malware wins runner-up prize. The $3,000 runner-up prize went to the similarly named NeuroMesh, whose founders were inspired to address the security of internet-connected devices last fall when hackers attacked baby monitors and other devices to crash Twitter, PayPal, and other major websites. During the team’s presentation, MIT cybersecurity PhD candidate Gregory Falco played a video showing a hack of a webcam on the MIT campus.
“Are you scared yet?” he asked the audience. Falco described NeuroMesh’s product as “good” malware, using the same type of technology as malicious programs to blacklist harmful programs and deny access to potential hackers. As more household and commercial products become connected, co-founder Caleb Li, MBA ’17, said, there’s been little invested in ensuring their security to hackers.
The $3,000 audience favorite prize went to Infinite Cooling, which also placed second in the Pitch competition in November. The team has developed a mechanism for recapturing water lost in the cooling systems of power plants, reducing water costs and usage.
Accelerate is the second of three annual MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition events. The third, Launch, takes place in May and awards the $100,000 grand prize. There were 127 applications for Accelerate. Twenty semifinalists spent two months developing prototypes and conducting customer and industry research. Eight finalists were selected Feb. 9 by a panel of judges. Applications for Launch open March 1. The final competition takes place May 17.