Leveraging a strategic location

The Phoenix metro area is growing and developing, but it's also drawing on its existing strengths in technology with various tech corridors and top medical institutions; across the street from the WearTech Applied Research Center is the Barrow Neurological Institute, the largest neurosurgical center in the country. 

BNI President and CEO Michael Lawton says the organization is all about bringing engineering together with neuroscience to help people.

“The future in neuroscience is really bringing engineering together with patients and building these devices that make a difference,” Lawton said. “We have access to the kind of clinical material that this community needs to take their technology and test it out, see if it helps patients, see if it helps surgeons do better operations, and really make a difference.”

Lawton says he believes the hub has the capacity for great things.

“My vision for this little part of Phoenix is this will become the envy of the country,” he said, noting that the area will become the neuroscience center of the country like Houston is for spaceflight. 

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is also ready for the center to kick off worldwide impact from the area.

“The people who will work at this hub probably could be anywhere in the country, and we’re excited that they’ll call Phoenix home,” Gallego said. “We want to grow our own businesses that will put roots down here and help us build the Phoenix of the future.”

Incubating innovation

The WearTech Applied Research Center currently hosts six research-based startup industry partners developing and testing wearable technology products at the center. Many of them involve ASU and Fulton Schools students, alumni and faculty.

FlexBioTech is an interdisciplinary effort between ASU faculty, students and industry and medical professionals to develop an at-home rapid diagnostic patch that uses sweat to detect alcohol and drugs. It was co-founded by Mayo Clinic medical oncologist and immunologist Karen Anderson and Jennifer Blain Christen, a Fulton Schools associate professor of electrical engineering.

WearTech helped connect the startup with a local company, True Mobile Health, which provides clients with a personalized approach to health care that mirrors what FlexBioTech is doing with diagnostics. 

Blain Christen calls it a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts, enabling each partner to approach individualized health care using their own expertise.

“WearTech has really allowed us to focus on the research in this partnership by providing us with both financial and ‘red tape’ support,” Blain Christen said. “They have done an amazing job of determining how to facilitate the partnership and worked within ASU to allow us to work on the project without needing to focus on the details of contracts and negotiations.”

Hoolest Performance Technologies is a student-led startup co-founded by biomedical engineering graduate student Nicholas Hool. Guided by principal investigator Raupp and supported by research coming out of the lab of Hool’s advisor, Fulton Schools Associate Professor William “Jamie” Tyler, the team is creating a noninvasive vagal nerve stimulator.

The device is being tested in clinical trials for use by people with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, and can be used to calm anxiety. 

Other companies in the WearTech Center include GoX Labs, led by Fulton Schools Professor Thomas Sugar and the startup's CEO Joe Hitt, who is also the executive director of the Wearable Robotics Association. They are developing exoskeleton and external devices worn to assist in human mobility and performance.

LevelUP, led by Debbie Crews, is a neurofeedback and performance enhancement startup.

Neurocea, LLC, led by Fulton Schools Professor Thurmon Lockhart, is developing a method to alleviate the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to help people in their daily lives.

Vantronics, LLC, led by Fulton Schools Professor Hanqing Jiang, develops edible sensors for monitoring gastric pH levels in people with acid reflux and similar disorders in a more accessible and comfortable way.

These companies represent only the beginning of what is possible as they come together to at the WearTech Applied Research Center to create solutions to brighten the future of health care and beyond.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering