Yong Pei, a computer science professor at Wright State University in Dayton, had an idea for a technology-based alternative to painkillers: glasses that use augmented reality, where computer-generated information based on real world sounds, smells and other signals enhances what a person senses.
“So basically, when the patient after surgery being discharged from the hospital goes back home, they will bring home a pair of augmented reality based glasses,” Pei said. “These glasses will help them manage their pain and manage their rehabilitation.”
Pei and his company Kinametechs submitted the idea to the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, and was named one of five winners in the challenge’s Idea Phase. It's the first round of awards in a contest that will take years to complete.
The challenge came out of last year’s State of the State speech in April, when Gov. John Kasich pledged $20 million from the state’s high-tech Third Frontier economic development initiative to help push technology-based ideas that can fight the opioid crisis.
The Third Frontier Commission announced in May it would launch a competition for $12 million to spend on medical products, tests or devices already in development, but first, it would spend $8 million on new, largely untested ideas.
Another winner in the Idea Phase is the University of Dayton Research Institute, which took researcher Kelly Cashion’s work with neurofeedback and came up with a way to measure the brain signals sent out when an addict has the urge to reuse. Mike O’Connor with UDRI said the person can be trained to refocus that attention to other things via a game or an app, which will help them ignore that urge.
“There’s been a lot of research in neurofeedback – it’s being used already for depression and ADD. There’s been recent research on nicotine addiction and tinnitus – retraining the brain to ignore the sound that you’re hearing in the ear,” O’Connor said. “So we think there’s, can make some progress, hopefully here we can show that it can work for opioids in the next six months or so.”
Other winners included a Massachusetts doctor who’s adapted his smoking cessation method into a digital therapeutic program centered on the theory of mindfulness to treat opioid addiction. The CEO of a Utah-based health company won one grant after they developed a screening app to flag patients who have risk factors for opioid abuse, as did the founder of a Massachusetts team that came up with a virtual reality technology designed to make teens and young adults aware of the dangers of opioids.
The Third Frontier Commission says it received hundreds of applications from around the world, and that Ohio is the only state holding a competition like this.
These winners get $10,000 for their ideas, and another 40 participants in this phase get $500 awards – half are professionals or experts, and the other half are called “citizen scientists.”
Cleveland based NineSigma is running the Opioid Technology Challenge. The company’s Frank Tropper said the next step, called the Challenge Phase, will start accepting proposals in February, and will involve even more money.
“We’re going to ask for people to actually come up with those technologies, to propose those technologies,” Tropper said. “And we will choose some that are promising, we’re going to help fund those, to develop them to the point where they are really great and could be used out there on the street.”
Challenge Phase winners will be announced in September. They’ll move on to the Product Phase, which will involve at least $6.5 million. Winners will be announced in August 2019 with the hope that they’ll have their products to help fight the opioid epidemic on the market in the next two years after that.