When Dr. Zaghloul Ahmed joined the faculty at City University of New York Staten Island (CSI), he arrived as a trained physical therapist and with his doctorate work done in electromagnetic stimulation of neurons. Seeking a clinically relevant animal model, he met with researchers from Rutgers University’s WM Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience who had developed a mouse model of spinal cord injury (SCI). Funding from the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center allowed him to test a number of hypotheses he had developed on how to improve neuromotor transmission in these mice.
Results from the initial animal studies were exciting. Eventually, Dr. Ahmed demonstrated that stimulating the motor cortex, spinal cord, and hind limb muscle of SCI mice enhanced the neuromotor connectivity between these areas. An SCI mouse that could barely control its hind paw could now control it almost as well as an uninjured mouse. He reported these findings to the CUNY Technology Commercialization Office (TCO), and CUNY filed patents on his new stimulation technique and novel stimulation hardware.
Jake Maslow was Director of the TCO at CUNY. Previously, he had many years of startup experience from MIT, having helped found and run two MIT spin-offs. “After the patents were applied for,” Dr. Ahmed said, “the ideas of how to get it into a business – most of the credit should be given to the CUNY TCO and Jake Maslow.”
In order to build a company around his stimulation technology, Dr. Ahmed would have to raise money to perform pilot studies to see if the animal results would translate in humans. Maslow helped Dr. Ahmed develop a story demonstrating the commercialization potential of his technique, and through the TCO, Dr. Ahmed applied for the Bioaccelerate NYC Prize. Bioaccelerate is a citywide competition sponsored by the Partnership for New York City Fund and the New York Economic Development Corporation that provides up to $250K to scientists for biomedical research with substantial commercial promise. The prize is intended to help develop technologies at “proof-of-concept” stage closer to commercialization. In May 2011, Dr. Ahmed was one of five winners of the Bioaccelerate Prize.
Dr. Ahmed presented some of initial results of the non-invasive PathMaker Mobility Therapy at NYC Tech Connect’s Emerging Technologies Summit. Of the several humans that had undergone treatment, although merely anecdotal evidence, all had shown functional improvement. One nine month old with cerebral palsy who had been previously paralyzed could now move, sit, and hold a toy. One youngster with a genetic syndrome who had previously been unable to stand or walk could now walk three city blocks. One of Dr. Ahmed’s first patients to undergo the treatment was a 14 year old girl who had been confined to a wheelchair for all of her life and had no other likely treatment alternatives. Now she can walk unassisted with crutches. She is off to college, wheelchair-free.
With his $250K from the BioAccelerate prize, Dr. Ahmed purchased equipment to develop a stimulation prototype and began human trails. Like the SCI animals, electrodes are placed externally at the motor cortex, the distal muscle of interest, and the spinal column, and patients are given simultaneous trains of three unique stimulations.
In addition to cerebral palsy patients, Dr. Ahmed has also treated stroke patients and normal volunteers, all of whom have shown functional improvement with the PathMaker treatment. These results along with the animal studies suggest that this treatment could provide functional improvement in mobility in many cases where neural transmission between the cortex and muscle is compromised.
With the success of Dr. Ahmed’s human pilot studies, Maslow left the CUNY TCO and founded PathMaker. His is now its CEO. He raised money from an angel investor to obtain exclusive rights to the CUNY IP covering the patent-pending PathMaker Mobility Therapy. Additionally, he and Dr. Ahmed have been working with a prototyping facility to develop a “PathMaker Smart Stimulator.”
This proprietary PathMaker Smart Stimulator will be simple enough for a technician to use, freeing doctors to see additional patients. FDA approval is the next big hurdle. Eventually, Maslow expects to team with existing medical facilities to commercialize this promising innovation by licensing out these “smart stimulators” and special technical expertise and hopes to one day build a chain of outpatient facilities based upon the PathMaker mobility treatment technology.
PathMaker has all the ingredients necessary to build a biotech. The company has combined Dr. Ahmed’s innovative idea with Maslow’s experience. Funding from the Bioaccelerate NYC Prize has allowed Dr. Ahmed to test the technique in patients. Along the way, Dr. Ahmed has supplemented his neuroscience expertise with knowledge on the business of science. “It’s been more than a PhD for me, the last few years,” he said. “It’s like a whole world.”