David Hankin became CEO at health research institute The Alfred Mann Foundation in a rather roundabout way.
An attorney by training, Hankin lent his expertise to the foundation more than a decade ago as outside counsel, ended up joining the company and accepted the role of CEO in 2007.
"I thought it would be about an afternoon’s project and it ended up turning into a career," Hankin told MassDevice.
Now he’s leading a project to help stroke patients regain their independence and war veterans regain limb control after traumatic brain injuries.
Alfred Mann, a noted entrepreneur and philanthropist, launched the foundation in 1985 to "create products that filled unmet and poorly-met needs" with research and development in medical technologies.
Mann has founded and largely funded 17 companies, 9 of which were acquired for an aggregate of nearly $8 billion.
Two of those ventures, MiniMed Inc. (maker of continuous glucose monitors for treatment of Type I diabetes) and Medical Research Group (in development of an artificial pancreas), were acquired by Medtronic Inc. (NYSE:MDT) in 2001. Advanced Bionics Corp. (maker of neurostimulation devices) was acquired by Boston Scientific Corp. (NYSE:BSX) in 2004. The list goes on, to wit: Buyouts by St. Jude Medical Inc. (NYSE:STJ) and Siemens AG (NYSE:SI).
One of the foundation’s most intriguing projects is its microstimulator research, which may one day help patients with movement disorders and paralysis regain control of their muscles and limbs. Tiny electrical stimulators implanted near a patient’s muscles send impulses to activate the muscles on command, coordinated wirelessly by an external controller.
The stimulators themselves are about the size of a matchstick and communicate by sending radio signals through the body. The microstimulators can be implanted almost anywhere, often without surgery, by using a large-gauge needle.
The foundation hopes the devices will eventually help patients suffering from neuromuscular disorders such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. Researchers are already at work on systems to detect pressure, body position and temperature, as well as systems to activate movement.
With news of a regulatory win granting the networked devices access to use a key radio frequency spectrum for their wireless communication, microstimulators may soon be ready to submit to the FDA for first-in-human trials, Hankin told MassDevice.
In an exclusive Q&A, Hankin tells us about the foundation’s goals, working with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and what’s next for microstimulators.