If you are a person who goes to the doctor for regular checkups, you're familiar with the routine: measurements are taken for height, weight, blood pressure. The physician listens to your heart and lungs; peers into your ears, nose and throat; maybe draws blood to measure cholesterol. Separate practitioners check your eyes and teeth.
But who regularly looks after your brain?
Boulder-based WAVi would like to make brain scans a normal part of a physical examination by making an affordable, quick and easy test to measure its performance. The company has received regulatory approval for a helmet to do just that, and will soon apply for the same for its compatible software.
The helmet, embedded with EEG electrodes, determines brain speed and power by having a patient perform a set of auditory and visual tests, measuring brain activity during the tasks. The set will sell to doctors for $3,000; patients will pay $30 for the test. That compares to a national average cost of $200 to $700 for an EEG, or $1,200 for brain CT scan.
"We want everybody to do it," said WAVi founder and CEO David Oakley, Ph.D. "We can track your brain function through your whole life."
There's not much else Oakley can say about what WAVi can do: As a medical device, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricts what claims the company can make. But it is being used in all sorts of interesting ways, detecting neurological issues such as concussions and even early signs of dementia.
The technology has been a long time coming. WAVi started 10 years ago. On average, medical devices take three to seven years from concept to approval, costing roughly $31 million. WAVi got in for less than half that: about $15 million in investment. Plenty of people kicked in.
There are 300 WAVi shareholders, Oakley said, including Crocs founder Scott Seamans — the helmet is actually made of the same material as the iconic clogs — and Boulder property owner Stephen Tebo, who took equity in exchange for office space in the early days.
"Our shareholders are everyone from a waiter to Tebo and everyone in between," Oakley said. "It's a real Boulder effort."
WAVi worked with the University of Colorado Boulder to study the device's effectiveness in identifying concussive events in student-athletes. A six-year study of data collected from the football and women's soccer teams will be published this summer.
"There's no direct measure of concussion, so it's a very important tool," said Miguel Rueda, associate athletic director for health and performance.
Rueda said the department was able to detect concussions and sub-concussive blows that could have damaging effects as well but would escape being classified as a concussion under current protocol. WAVi helped the department monitor student-athletes to determine when their brains had healed enough to allow them to resume their sport.
Greenwood Village-based doctor Jeffrey Boone is using WAVi at his practice, Boone Heart Institute, to detect — and correct — slowing in aging brains. He is hopeful it can be used to reverse dementia before it progresses to a non-curable state.
Boone measured the cardiovascular health of his patients, prescribing an aggressive cardiovascular treatment plan when he began to see declines. His prediction was that brain health would improve along with heart health. WAVi helped him confirm that hypothesis.
"We would see the brain essentially heal itself," he said. "There are 100 billion brain cells and 30,000 miles of blood vessels circulating around a human's brain. It just makes sense that if I can make the rivers of blood that feed that brain (better), they ought to heal millions of those brain cells."
Similar work could eventually help develop protocols for diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression — the possibilities are endless, Oakley said.
"We want this in the hands of doctors everywhere so they can do their own research on their own patients. I hope this is the future of medicine."