NexStride, by De Oro Devices, Is Giving People With Parkinson’s the Gift of Mobility
CEO and Co-founder Sidney Collin has invented a novel device that helps people with Parkinson’s overcome ‘freezing of gait,’ a debilitating symptom that causes dangerous falls and affects millions of people worldwide.
Often with healthcare startups, there’s a direct problem at hand and then there’s the much bigger health moonshot challenge. The micro leads to the macro and the mission is critical to the moonshot. Such is the case with the most recent addition to the StartUp Health portfolio, De Oro Devices, maker of NexStride.
This story starts with a very specific challenge that is at once simple and profound. Around the globe, there are 10 million people struggling with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s, which is the fastest-growing neurodegenerative disease in the world, attacks the central nervous system and affects movement, often causing tremors. About 80% of people suffering from Parkinson’s have experienced or will experience what’s called “freezing of gait.” This is when the individual suddenly cannot walk forward, feeling as though their feet are glued to the floor or stuck in a box of cement. This sudden onset of immobility is one of the most debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s because it’s both emotionally frustrating and dangerous. Not only is the person unable to go about their life, their normal daily routine, but since the freezing of gait can happen without warning, it’s a leading cause of falls.
Thankfully there is a solution. A body of research — and an army of physical therapists — have discovered that we can trick the brain and “unfreeze” a person’s gait by using visual and auditory cues. Something as simple as a line of tape on the floor and a steady beat clapped by hand can help the patient tap into a different part of the brain and allow them to restart their movement.
The problem is that these visual-auditory tools have been locked in the clinic when what patients really need is help at home or on the go. This is representative of a broader industry challenge of translating the best research and clinical practice from the clinic to daily at-home usefulness.
With their startup, De Oro Devices, Sidney Collin, William Thompson, and their team are tackling the specific issue of “freezing of gait” while also opening up an avenue for bringing a range of well-designed tools to market, devices that bridge the gap from research to practice and make everyday life better for seniors.
For as long as she can remember, Sidney Collin has been obsessed with how the brain works, how the body works, and how the two interact. That obsession led her to pursue a biomedical engineering degree at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, and work for a brain-computer interface company in France.
Towards the end of her time at Cal Poly, Collin was introduced to an elderly man named Jack who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Jack brought Collin into his world and showed her the daily struggles of living with Parkinson’s, in particular, the “freezing of gait” challenge that left him glued to the floor, or worse, taking a spill. He was having success using visual and auditory cues to “unfreeze” his gait at his physical therapist’s office, and since he was a former engineer, he knew that a device could be built that replicated this technology at home and on the go. He knew that if he could get a portable version of this therapy tool, it would give him freedom of movement. He just needed to inspire the right entrepreneur.
Sidney was hooked. She grabbed another engineering student and set about building a device for Jack. Three months later she had a prototype that changed Jack’s life almost immediately.
“For Jack, who freezes up every three or four steps, it really was the difference between being able to get up and go to the bathroom, or walk into the kitchen, or being confined to a wheelchair,” says Collin.
Once they made the device for Jack, he brought Collin to a support group where she met dozens of people with Parkinson’s who needed the same product. She knew they were on to something big, so she launched De Oro Devices and began developing the manufacturing framework for their first product, called NexStride.
Under the Hood
NexStride is a small black box that can be easily mounted on a cane, walker, or walking poles. About the size of your palm, this device sends out a green laser line that runs perpendicular to the person walking forward. The device can be swiveled to place this green line right in front of the person’s feet or a few feet out ahead.
NexStride also comes with a built-in metronome with adjustable pace and volume. The combination of the visual cue of the green line and the auditory cue of the steady beat has the effect of re-establishing communication pathways between the brain and the body when a freezing episode occurs.
“The first time I used NexStride it was amazing because the laser light went on and it was like a “go” signal,” says Earl, a man with Parkinson’s who shared his experience in a testimonial video. “I just stepped over it. I could take four or five steps no problem.”
Some people only freeze up in certain situations, like one man Sidney worked with who had trouble walking when he was on a hike. The portability of the NextStride device allowed him to strap it to his hiking poles and stay mobile no matter the terrain.
The NexStride was designed from scratch by Sidney Collin and her team and they’ve worked with a US-based manufacturer to build the devices domestically.
The results have been powerful.
“My wife hops up and is ready to go with NexStride,” says Roger McBride a caregiver who shared his story on the company’s website. “Before she would freeze up, get the walker out in front of her, and she would fall down. She has zero falls with NexStride.”
Why We’re Proud to Invest
Sidney Collin is a wonderful contradiction. She’s in her mid-twenties, as bright as they come, yet she is dedicating her youthful energy and intelligence to some of the quiet frustrations and daily challenges of our elderly population. We’re excited to invest in Collin and her vision because she’s smart enough to design new tools from scratch and young enough to believe anything is possible.
We’re also bullish on De Oro Devices because it addresses a startling gap in the market. While reams of research are being published about Parkinson’s, basic daily challenges have gotten less attention.
“What really blows my mind,” says Collin, “is that while this freezing of gait is one of the most debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s, there really hasn’t been a solution for it. Medications don’t help. Neurostimulation doesn’t really help.” And Parkinson’s patients are just the beginning. There’s published research showing that these same visual-auditory cues are helping in areas like stroke rehab, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy.
“There’s a much bigger impact that this product can have. Just looking at the current product and use cases, it’s about 26 million people globally,” says Collin. “At our price point of $499, that’s a total market of $13B with this one product alone.”
Finally, we’re proud to back Collin and her team because their health moonshot vision goes way beyond one device and one challenge. This team recognizes that there’s a larger gap that needs to be filled, that of creating a suite of products that meet people where they’re at as they age.
“A lot of the money goes into cures, which is admirable,” says co-founder Will Thomson, “but we’re focusing on solutions to help people now, with specific symptoms.”
“There’s a huge need to create tools that allow people to retain and regain their mobility at home,” says Collin.
NexStride is just the first device by De Oro Devices that helps people thrive with independence as they age. We can’t wait to see what they build next. Join us as we welcome them to the StartUp Health family.
Connect with Sidney Collin and her team via email.
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NexStride, by De Oro Devices, Is Giving People With Parkinson’s the Gift of Mobility was originally published in StartUp Health on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.