Charlottesville startup invests $600,000 in knee brace research – The Cavalier Daily
Charlottesville-based medical device company Icarus Medical received a $600,000 research grant in October to help develop and produce their knee braces, which can relieve more knee pain than other braces. on the market.
Dave Johnson, founder and CEO of Icarus Medical, started the company after a high school football injury left him with long-term knee damage. Johnson’s injury left him with patellofemoral osteoarthritis, which makes everyday tasks like bending and even walking painful.
“I didn’t realize how debilitating it was going to be, but it only got worse,” Johnson said. “I was faced with this dilemma of needing a joint replacement but being way too young to do it.”
Realizing that there were no solutions for young people with patellofemoral osteoarthritis, Johnson began developing a knee brace designed to reduce strain on the joint. To accomplish this, the brace features a tensioning system that removes up to 40 pounds from the knee, making everyday tasks much less painful.
“There are approximately 15 million people who benefit from [the brace], and the average pain reduction for this population is 60%,” Johnson said. “They can be more active, have a better quality of life and better overall health.”
When Icarus Medical received its grant from Virginia Catalyst, a nonprofit fund focused on helping innovation in Virginia, Icarus Medical decided to not only invest in research at the University and Virginia Commonwealth University, but also hired university engineering students.
“We are truly impressed with the talent with which we have the opportunity to work at U.Va. We have great aspirations for what this company can do and we are always looking for partners within the University and of the community,” says Johnson.
Benjamin Scire, a fourth-year engineering student and one of Icarus’ lead design engineers, joined Icarus in its 2020 debut and helped develop the Ascender knee brace. Scire said he believes the research grant will help take the company to the next level.
“We need to get the resources and engineers we need to keep improving automation and making [the manufacturing] more efficient, so we can make a perfectly fitting knee brace in no time,” Scire said.
Affordability and accessibility are major considerations for Icarus. Braces are free with most insurance plans and can be customized quickly from anywhere. Currently, Icarus is able to scan a patient’s knee from an iPhone app anywhere in the country and then 3D print the custom brace.
“If you want to get a custom knee brace, it will take at least a month to receive it, and we’re already doing that in about a week and a half,” Scire said. “We’re going to be able to reduce that time more and more with the help of this grant.”
Zachary Kim, a fourth-year engineering student and mechanical engineer at Icarus, is working on improving the Ascender and modeling the splint on patients. Not only are the brace’s technology and tensioning systems new, but so is the automation and degree of customization.
“We really want to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation,” Kim said. “Very few products on the market are suitable for this level”.
The partnership with universities and the use of the grant give Icarus the opportunity to continue to innovate on a larger scale.
Evan Eckersley, Director of Operations at Icarus Medical, has been with Icarus since 2020. Eckersley is working to optimize knee brace automation and production, which the grant will accelerate.
“The first goal of the grant and working with U.Va. is to finish automating the design of the device, so we can basically take that scan and then automatically 3D print the device without any human intervention. , purely for cost-effectiveness, to get the most optimal device,” Eckersley said.
Icarus Medical has partnered with the University and Virginia Commonwealth University to conduct research on innovation and automation.
“Universities are huge for us,” Scire said. “We have a lot of very smart orthopedic doctors at U.Va. and VCU who are going to get these clinical studies started right away. Getting that kind of network of experts is one of the best things about working with universities.”
“We met key people with deep knowledge of the things we needed help with,” Johnson said.
The Charlottesville-based startup is looking to universities for more than research. Not only do students play an important role in the company, but student employees gain real work experience and see their hard work pay off for the patients they benefit from.
“I feel like overall I would have become a much more well-rounded engineer and I guess more ready for the job market than I ever would have been in a corporate position,” said Kim. “Even though I’m an undergrad, I apply the things I learned in class in everyday life.”
Although only a few years old, the company has made critical innovative breakthroughs while working with universities and undergraduates.