NM startup maps chronic pain with new technology ”Albuquerque Journal


Today’s devastating opioid epidemic may stem, in part, from the medical industry’s lack of comprehensive tools to effectively analyze, diagnose, and treat chronic pain, but now a New Mexico startup can have a revolutionary solution to start tackling the problem.

First functional prototype of a dominant and non-dominant pressure detection glove with full functionality. (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

PainScan System Inc.’s patent-pending technology could allow physicians and clinical technicians to quickly create detailed 3D maps of an individual’s pain points on an iPad or computer screen with a simple tactile examination that measures the intensity of pain on any part of a patient’s body. This could offer doctors a holistic view of a person’s symptoms to better diagnose the causes and develop more effective treatments.

Family doctor Dr Andru Zeller designed the system while working with patients at his private clinic in Las Cruces. And since 2015, he’s been working to turn his idea into a working, marketable technology that may soon become available to the medical industry.

The concept grew out of working directly with people who didn’t want opiates to treat their pain, Zeller said.

3D model of the glove in action showing a pain response during palpation. (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

“It challenged me to figure out what was going on with their pain and how to help them feel better,” Zeller told The Journal. “It became evident that we lacked essential tools to get a clear picture of a person’s pain. “

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MRIs and other tests allow doctors to see things in a patient’s body.

“But they’re terrible at identifying chronic pain that doesn’t have an obvious source,” Zeller said. “The PainScan device was born out of this. We need a more sophisticated way to fully map a patient’s pain using tactile exams.

Example of manual entry of the iPad application of a PainScan performed on a patient presenting a sciatica-type complaint. (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

Example of manual entry into the iPad application of a pain scan performed on a fibromyalgia patient presenting with a headache complaint. Front view (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

Zeller and his PainScan team are always testing and modifying the system, designing new iterations of the technology based on physician feedback to better meet their needs.

But the initial core technology includes a special “clinician’s glove” built into ultra-thin sensors to measure the degree of pressure when an examiner touches or palpates a patient’s painful spots. This is supported by cameras to track the palpated location, as well as a special software platform developed by the PainScan team to quickly acquire all camera and sensor data in real time and display it on a 3D avatar of the camera. patient on a computer screen.

The system includes a hand-held device that patients squeeze when the doctor touches or palpates painful spots. The patient’s grip reactions will indicate the pain felt on a scale of 1 to 10, all captured by the software platform and integrated into the 3D image.

“Today’s zero to 10 verbal scale is Paleolithic,” Zeller said. “This system provides precision medicine for measuring pain, something we don’t have today.”

The PainScan team also integrates artificial intelligence, or machine learning, into the software platform to help guide physical exams by offering the physician to extend or repeat certain palpation points based on the patient’s responses. This will help develop a more complete picture of all the individual patient reactions and the pain they are experiencing.

The team also plans to integrate an integrated sensor belt into the system to measure a patient’s muscle movement during the exam, Zeller said. This will help to further register the patient’s overall reaction when doctors palpate the painful spots, as people tend to tense or contract their muscles when they experience pain.

First proof of concept combining a touch screen with LEDs and SingleTact pressure sensors. (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

Overall, the system can provide a detailed “baseline” of an individual’s pain to help physicians identify sensitivities, diagnose causes, and apply treatments appropriate to particular patient conditions, rather than to simply prescribe pain relievers or other generic therapies, Zeller said.

Additionally, the baseline can help reduce patient subjectivity. This is important because people tend to generalize the pain they feel without a specific description, and they often downplay the amount of pain they feel.

“People tend to stress their pain, even when their facial expression says otherwise,” Zeller said. “With an objective baseline, we can cut through the social or culturally conditioned mind, and come up with a ‘base-brain’ response that all people share.”

Likewise, many healthcare professionals working in primary, urgent and emergency care settings are under-trained in pain analysis and often face time constraints that lead to superficial examinations, a Zeller said.

“This system provides a helping hand in guiding under-trained clinicians in anatomy and pain analysis to enable them to see what a pain conditions expert might otherwise see,” he said. -he declares.

View of the open palm of the working glove prototype. (Courtesy of PainScan System Inc.)

And because the system can be used for pre- and post-treatment exams, doctors and researchers can identify chronic pain trends in patients over time to measure how well therapies are working and pursue new pathways. ‘action.

“Researchers can use it to study more complex therapies with strong pre- and post-therapy reviews,” Zeller said.

This can help occupational therapists with objective baselines show improvements through therapy, which, in turn, will help gain buy-in from insurance companies to continue paying for patient care.

Zeller officially launched his business in 2018, although he has since changed the name from Just Healthcare LLC to PainScan System.

The Arrowhead Center in Las Cruces, which manages all of New Mexico State University’s entrepreneurship and technology transfer programs, has provided critical support to PainScan from the start. NMSU’s Federal-State Technology Partnership Program, or NM FAST, helped Zeller this year win a $ 256,000 National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Science Foundation to continue to develop PainScan technology. .

The US Small Business Administration provides $ 125,000 per year to help fund FAST, which the Arrowhead Center launched in 2015 to work with small businesses and startups statewide in preparing SBIR and Small Business grant applications. Technology Transfer from federal agencies such as NSF. Over the past six years, the FAST program has helped 240 companies across New Mexico, leading to a total of $ 11.6 million in SBIR and STTR awards.

Zeller was a “natural fit” for FAST, said Dana Catron, deputy director of Arrowhead.

“He’s one of those people who has worked in his profession long enough to identify a critical need and then create something to successfully meet that need,” Catron told the Journal. “His technology is solid and he is engaged and enthusiastic about what he does.”

The NMSU also helped Zeller secure $ 72,000 in funding from the state’s Small Business Assistance Program, enabling PainScan to receive technical assistance from the New Mexico National Laboratories.

Serial entrepreneur John Mierzwa – CEO of Albuquerque-based website development company Ingenuity Software – has joined PainScan as CEO and is now helping Zeller seek private investment.

“We are compiling documents to start talking with investors,” Mierzwa told the Journal. “We are quite confident about the future of PainScan. It provides a missing piece to the puzzle of chronic pain in medicine. “

Zeller himself has invested around $ 70,000 of his own funds in the business. PainScan recently acquired a facility with laboratory space in Las Cruces. It currently employs eight people.

Kevin Robinson-Avila covers technology, energy, venture capital and utilities for the Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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