Monday May 18, 2015 0 comments
PARKER -- At BioCare Systems, bigger isn’t always better.
In early May the Parker-based company closed the final week of a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign for LumiWave, its marquee product made with near-infrared technology to pinpoint and relieve muscle pain.
It’s one of the only FDA-approved IR devices that’s also sized for the living room. At 4X4 inches, it proved wildly successful on IndieGoGo, selling 1,000 devices for $199 each in just under three months. Similar treatments are either $5,000 and require a doctor’s visit or run $50 and don’t come with a federal seal of approval.
For company founder Sherry Fox, the grassroots campaign was a near-perfect match for LumiWave, particularly as her brainchild is about to enter the big leagues. She believes it’s smaller, better and infinitely easier than stopping by a clinic for occasional pain relief — and it already has a ready-built market.
“We found the best use of this technology was to get it into private homes,” says Fox, who also acts as company chairman. “Think of it as a stair step: If you go to the doctor or physical therapist once or twice a week, you’re taking one step at a time. But if you can get treatment every day, you’re taking leaps and bounds.”
LumiWave has already proven popular with high-level athletes, Fox says, from hopefuls with the USA Softball team to Olympians at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It’s been used by trainers at five Olympic Games, including Beijing and Vancouver.
But for the everyday athlete — say, a skier who comes out on the weekends, or a tennis player who hits the courts a few times every week — the promise of simple, at-home relief is just as enticing. Sure, casual activity isn’t quite on par with international competition, but the device’s technology works the same for both.
“Look at it like this: When you see a 4-year-old break their leg, they heal in two weeks,” says Jon Weston, president and chief executive officer at BioCare. “They heal quickly. But as we age, our healing processes begin to slow down. What near-infrared does is speed up that process, put your body back on a normal healing schedule.”
The infrared appeal
Fox founded BioCare in 1999, shortly after near-IR technology first made its way into professional and consumer-grade products. Just a year earlier, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to a group of scientists and doctors for their research on nitric oxide, a molecule they found to be essential for cardiovascular function.
Fox knew the technology had boundless potential, but no one had yet tied it to the sports medicine industry.
“It was the thought, the idea, that there was technology available that wasn’t being utilized appropriately or effectively,” Fox says of the company’s early years. “I wanted to take the technology of infrared light therapy and look at how it could be done, how it needed to be done.”
Around 2001, the light bulb went off. As Weston explains, lactic acid is the natural byproduct of exercise. When muscles work overtime during exercise or play, the acid builds up and can cause soreness. Nitric oxide is lactic acid’s natural “antidote,” so to speak: It regulates blood flow and helps clear cells of acid buildup.
The current LumiWave device takes molecular science and pares it down to the basics. With a system of 200 LED bulbs — the majority of other at-home products only contain 50 or so — the device delivers pinpoint relief to muscle groups, repairing damaged cells by exciting nitric oxide molecules already in the body.
After 20 minutes, the bulbs deliver enough therapeutic near-IR light to relieve aches. Those other products can take upwards of six hours for the same results, Weston says.
After filing for patents and fiddling with the technology for three years, BioCare launched the first LumiWave prototype in 2004. It was a cumbersome process, Fox says, thanks in large part to the at-home market. Like an over-the-counter drug, requirements for consumer products are much stricter than medical-grade counterparts.
But it was worth the effort.
“It took a few years of building prototypes, doing the research, filing for IP protection, all of that,” Fox says. “We wanted to do this all correctly, get the FDA’s stamp of approval.”
While the prototype worked, it needed dozens of revisions before hitting the shelves. Fox lovingly refers to the first model as a black box — “It wasn’t attractive at all,” she laughs — and the company soon launched focus groups for design feedback. After all, if it was going to live on a bathroom counter or bedside table, it had to be sleek, intuitive, even sexy.
“The end result was a beautiful product that’s ergonomically designed, easy to use, easy to clean, simple to operate,” Fox says. “Quite honestly, I think it’s an incredible device.”
Beyond muscle pain
Nitric oxide doesn’t just counteract muscle soreness. It has a slew of physiological benefits, and with the current LumiWave device ready to launch this fall at $299, Fox and Weston have set their sights on other applications for near-IR therapy.
One of the most promising is brain health. The company has already conducted a handful of studies with the Army National Guard at Fort Carson. Using a modified LumiWave system — it looks like a sort of helmet with LED bulbs strewn across the interior — researchers treated several personnel who have mild traumatic brain injuries. The soldiers suffered from depression, disrupted sleep and even suicidal thoughts, all due to improper blood flow spurred by their injuries.
After 28 weeks of cognitive behavior therapy and regular LumiWave treatments — any future products for brain health will be clinical only — the results were astonishing, Fox says.
One soldier moved from borderline suicidal to normal function and has now applied to helicopter flight school. She expects similar results in other studies, including a current study of student athletes at a Denver-area high school.
“‘Getting to these kids sooner will really be beneficial,” Fox says. “Concussions can impact school work and memory and just about everything they run into during the day. If you can help a young student athlete correct an issue early, it can be much better in the long run.”