“The power of neuroplasticity is within our own body. It’s between our ears – it’s our brain.” -Dr. Luke Barr
Most people mindlessly tie their shoes, grab a cup of coffee, shake hands, or type out an email on a daily basis. But for victims of a stroke, brain or spinal injury, those mundane tasks are suddenly a frustrating struggle or completely impossible. For some patients there is a path to regaining function in their extremities through physical therapy.
Thankfully, talented neurologists like Dr. Luke Barr, dedicate their careers to maximizing recovery from these debilitating setbacks. Dr. Barr has developed a promising device that harnesses the power of neuroplasticity to do just that. In addition to directing the neurology department of a southern Indiana healthcare system, he is the founder of Plasticity Neurorehabilitation.
The company has recently launched the Polyform-1h, a non-invasive neurorehabilitation tool designed specifically for hand rehabilitation. Dr. Barr poured years of research and experience into developing the device before turning to Catalyst. We recently had a chance to sit down with him to hear his story of developing the Polyform-1h.
Q: What drove you to develop such a specialized rehabilitation device?
A: “As I went on through my education and as a resident, I treated a lot of stroke patients, people with spinal injury, M.S. or what have you. A lot of times they’ll get the gross function back at the shoulder, at the elbow and at the wrist but not their hand dexterity. I questioned why this is.
Neurologists and therapists often have patients working with very sophisticated electronic devices, such as stimulators, robotized gloves, or robotized arm/wrist orthoses. Simpler tools like squeezers and putties are also used, but these are ipsilateral technologies, meaning that they are designed to work on the injured side only.
Technologies utilizing bi-manual principles are very complicated, difficult to access, and extremely expensive to work with. For the most part, they are limited to high-level research settings. Patients often don’t make the progress that they want to make and it’s very frustrating for them, their families, and their medical team.
I wanted a simple solution to guide neuroplasticity in a way that can maximize functional recovery for these patients. More and more data are showing us that when you utilize both hands, it really activates neuroplasticity and allows those new connections to be created. And that’s when it hit me. We have two hands and they’re designed to be used together. I set out to create something that was mass producible, accessible, and affordable for the average person, but also had that functionality in it where they’re working with both hands.”
Q: You came up with this specific shape and design. What are we looking at here?
A: “I’ve spent the past three years researching and developing this particular device. It’s a very unusual shape. It’s highly asymmetric, and there’s a lot of thought behind that. There are no batteries to change, no software to update, no moving parts or electronics that are going to degrade or deteriorate over time.
So, it’s very simple but it’s very sophisticated on the inside. This is designed to have enough weight to minimize any excessive tremor, but still be light enough that a patient can comfortably manipulate it. The paddle serves as the handle for the supporting hand, and the knob is the part that you’re going to be manipulating with the compromised hand. The angled paddle and multiple facets make the hand utilize a slightly different conformation each time the patient grasps it. With every repetition, the patient has to coordinate the grasp and release of one hand with the turning motion of the other hand. That coordination and the subtle differences are what wake the brain up. The goal is to guide our innate ability to heal, adapt and overcome by harnessing our neuroplasticity.”
Q: You had been putting a lot of time and expertise into this device. What brought you to Catalyst?
A: “I had the basic idea, and I was looking to have some prototypes 3D printed. I applied for a grant through the INTAP program, which I was subsequently awarded. I’d given some of those initial 3D prints out to people who had chronic injuries to work with. And they told me it really positively impacted their life when other methods weren’t working. I decided right then that it was very important to get this tool into as many people’s hands as possible so that everybody can get those benefits.
I began working with a very talented engineering firm and a gifted mold designer. He recommended that we explore injection molding so that it could be produced at an accessible cost and in enough volume. We developed some basic mold ideas and drafts as well as the concept of assemblage. We shopped around to a couple of manufacturers and frankly, a lot of places said it couldn’t be done. A lot of the plastic injection molding experts felt that doing what I wanted to do at the price point that I needed, was extremely improbable, if not unfeasible. We were told that they might be able to make the device but it’s going to cost ten times what my budget was. They also thought we would need a million more different design changes to make it feasible, which means you come out with a completely different product. We were getting a little bit depressed and frustrated. One day my team said ‘Let me call this company I know that does small batches and has tremendous expertise. Let’s see what they think.’ It turns out that they said yes, it could be done. That company was Catalyst.”
Q: You were told that it couldn’t be done. What specific issues had to be overcome?
A: “So, one of the issues was the overall weight of the device. Catalyst engineers worked with my designer to modify the wall thickness to hit the target weight. Then the two halves needed to assemble in a way that it cannot come apart. They were also able to figure out how to do that with some complicated internal clipping systems.
Catalyst helped us to identify suppliers of the ABS resin and colorant that is utilized, when we couldn’t find it on our own. One of the best things about Catalyst is that they build the mold, so you own and control your production tool. I was advised very early on that a lot of places will make a tool for you, but it’s sort of theirs, not yours. The ability to control your production by actually owning the tooling and all the intellectual properties that are associated with it is absolutely critical. Thankfully, it’s something that occurs as a standard part of the package when you work with Catalyst.”
Q: What has been your experience in regard to working with Catalyst?
A: “Catalyst guided me through all the different steps and helped me get all my ducks in a row. This is a completely uncharted world for me. They’ve held my hand quite a bit, at no extra cost I’m also very pleased to say. We’ve had dozens of meetings. I work a day job that is extremely demanding. I have very little free time. So, when I do have that moment, I have to utilize it very quickly and efficiently. I’d be sending emails back and forth with Catalyst while I’m running around and I’d say, ‘I have 15 minutes right now. Can we do a meeting?’ The team at Catalyst would reply, ‘Give us 2 minutes to verify.’ and 3 minutes later we’re on a Teams call. To me, you can’t beat that.
I’ve been working on this product for the past three years, although I’ve only been working with Catalyst for about eight months. Catalyst was able to make my product at the price point that I needed to be at, out of the materials I need it to be made out of, and at the volumes that I’m looking at as a startup.
They’ve been able to deliver all of this on time, including custom texturing and logo … a lot of extra touches that really went above and beyond. We just approved our first production batch, and as you might imagine, it’s thrilling. It’s exhilarating. It’s been a dream working with Catalyst. They’ve made it picture perfect. It surprisingly looks better than the 3D renders. So, I’ve been extremely pleased working with them.”
Q: Do you plan to keep your production manufacturing here at Catalyst?
A: “That’s my current plan. Catalyst has been so good to me that I’d like to stay with them as I continue to grow, even if that means figuring out ways to exceed their current production capacity. We’ll see. But if I have a choice, I’ll stay with Catalyst for the duration of my growth. Even if that means moving a million units a year, I’d love to do it here.”
Rest assured that Catalyst will do everything possible to keep production capacity up with the demand for Dr. Barr’s Polyform-1h. His journey is proof that some great things are possible when you really put your mind to it. Catalyst is proud to help bring this innovative, portable, and affordable device into rehabilitation centers, homes and the hands that need it.