MedRhythms Uses the Universal Language of Music to Bring Hope, Healing to Mobility Impaired Patients


By Sarah Dickey, ACA Membership Director

Young company awarded prestigious Luis Villalobos Award, Life Sciences category, from Angel Capital Association 

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

Hans Christian Andersen wrote these words nearly 200 years ago, but a bold new startup is living proof of music’s inherent ability to stimulate, and even heal, the human brain.

MedRhythms, a Portland, Maine-based digital therapeutics company, is building direct stimulation, prescription therapeutics that use sensors, music, and software to improve loss of mobility caused by neurologic injuries and diseases. Featured in Harvard Health Publishing, Forbes, The Huffington Post, CNBC, and Everyday Health, the company’s digital therapeutics approach has the potential to disrupt healthcare and improve the walking function, fall risk, and quality of life of millions afflicted by strokes, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injury, Aging in Place, and other impairments.

This week, MedRhythms was awarded the prestigious Luis Villalobos Award for Life Sciences, which recognizes the most ingenious and innovative idea recently financed by members of the Angel Capital Association (ACA.) Maine Venture Fund (MVF), a group of angels that belong to ACA, invested in MedRhythms, alongside several individuals, family funds, and Maine Technology Institute.

Founder and CEO Brian Harris recognized the power of music as a neurotherapy solution early in his career working at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Brian worked one-on-one with patients, using his acoustic guitar and voice to help them regain the ability to walk and talk after debilitating brain injury. With ground-breaking early results, Brian sought a solution that could scale this approach to millions, founding MedRhythms with his partner Owen McCarthy in 2015. The company is now advancing its hardware and software solution through the FDA approval process.

“As an economic development arm of the State of Maine, Maine Venture Fund is incredibly proud to support Brian, Owen, and the MedRhythms team in pioneering a dynamic technology that offers not only massive potential for the company, but also the promise of considerable public benefit for Mainers and people around the world,” said Joe Powers, who nominated MedRhythms for the award.

"It is truly an honor for MedRhythms to be selected as the 2020 Luis Villalobos Award Winner in Life Sciences.  As a company built on a mission to improve the lives of all those around the world living with neurologic injury and disease, capital raised from angel investors has been crucial in our ability to innovate and make the impact we have thus far, and we are humbled to be recognized by the ACA in this way," commented Harris.

Millions of people suffer from neurologic injury and disease each year. Mobility impairments are among the greatest and most life-altering challenges, negatively impacting quality of life, social interaction, community integration, and increasing the risk of dangerous falls. With a growing aging population, there is a lack of clinicians available to treat these populations, and even minor improvements in walking function could have major positive impacts on patients and their families.

What is the science behind MedRhythms’ approach?

Music has been demonstrated to globally activate the human brain, including areas that are responsible for movement, language, attention, memory, executive function, and emotion. Specific to movement and walking, there is profound evidence that rhythm can engage the motor system to improve functional outcomes. By creating and strengthening audio-motor pathways in the part of the brain responsible for movement, patterns can be altered and improved. The brain’s inherent ability to strengthen neural connections or create new connections to acquire new skills over time or heal from injury is referred to as neuroplasticity. No matter a person’s age, the brain is capable of healing itself when exposed to the right stimuli. There is conclusive evidence that music can offer an alternative entry point to positively rewire the brain in certain regions, including those associated with movement.

How does MedRhythms’ technology work?

The digital therapeutic platform is designed to digitize an evidence-based intervention known as Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (see MedRhythms Scientific Approach Summary). MedRhythms has digitized this intervention for walking recovery by developing a “Clinical Thinking Algorithm” that uses walking data from inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensors to produce decision-making processes like those employed by trained therapists. The intervention stimulates the neural circuitry that controls movement. By coupling the auditory and motor systems of the brain and linking that activation to an external rhythmic cue, the approach can enhance the ability of the brain to improve and heal itself, leading to improved motor outcomes.

What kind of response has MedRhythms received from the medical and scientific community so far?

MedRhythms has advanced rapidly through operational and validation milestones, including:

  • Multiple granted patents, including initiation of a licensing deal with a best-in-class biomechanics sensor supplier
  • Completion of a feasibility study in chronic stroke that exceeded expectations
  • Expansion of the core team, including creation of Scientific Advisory Boards in stroke, MS, and PD comprised of leading researchers and clinicians, and creation of a Patient Advisory Board
  • Acceptance from the FDA on a pivotal trial design for stroke victims and launch of that trial at the top three rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S.
  • Award of a grant for a feasibility study at Cleveland Clinic in Multiple Sclerosis

To learn more about MedRhythms, visit www.medrhythms.com. For more information about the Luis Villalobos Award, visit www.angelcapitalassociation.org/luis-villalobos-award/

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