By: Judy Newman
When a person enlists in the U.S. military, in addition to going through a standard physical exam, there may also be tests someday for physical strength and range of motion — if a joint project involving the Department of Defense and a Fitchburg startup proves successful.
Kiio, a company whose technology helps screen people for muscle-related injuries and monitors the progress of their treatment, has enrolled the first participants in a study to see how likely an enlistee is to suffer chronic tendinopathy and to track how well treatment is working.
The $1.3 million, three-year grant will study 318 participants in a test that will be conducted at UW-Madison and analyzed by the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
It is one of two significant developments for Kiio this summer that could open a lot of doors for the young company.
Tendinopathy refers to tendon damage, often caused by overuse.
“When we think about military injuries, we think of injuries having to do with guns and bombs,” said Dave Grandin, Kiio CEO. But, he said, studies have shown non-combat musculoskeletal injuries are the leading cause of limited-duty days and disability in the U.S. military.
If enlistees are checked for the strength and range of motion of various tendons from the start, Grandin said, it would create a baseline to help “predict the onset of an injury but also help to rehabilitate someone when they do have an injury.”
Kiio’s wireless sensor measures strength and endurance of muscles, and the company’s software shows the results on an electronic tablet.
The testing process, developed in collaboration with the UW-La Crosse, will look at people who are physically fit and between the ages of 18 and 42 who are not necessarily enlistees but might have the physical qualifications, Grandin said. Nearly 30 percent of the participants will have tendinopathy; the others will not.
“Chronic tendinopathy is one of the most common musculoskeletal diseases,” said Dr. John Wilson, who is directing the study at the UW-Madison. “There is currently no efficient, standardized, objective method to quantify tendon performance, and this is a significant limitation in our ability to assess treatment efficacy.”
The University of Miami team will develop a normal database and create an algorithm that will be used to track treatment and to prevent injuries.
Grandin said Kiio will receive about $700,000 of the federal grant while the rest will go to UW-Madison and University of Miami.
He said if the study shows the effectiveness of Kiio’s technology, it could be a tool not only for the military but for all types of sports.
Meanwhile, Kiio also has received a $1 million investment from a company whose name is not yet being disclosed.
Grandin said the investment will be used to work toward commercializing a new program for the company aimed at helping people with lower-back pain, a problem that affects up to one-fourth of U.S. adults each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“The cost associated with this problem … is massive,” Grandin said.
He said Kiio’s technology can screen a patient to determine the type of back pain and guide the person through the appropriate exercises that don’t require special equipment. A pilot program is underway on that, Grandin said.
“It prevents people from using services they don’t need to use, like opioids, steroids or spine surgery,” he said.
Kiio, founded in 2011, has raised more than $5 million so far and has 16 employees.