Gray Matter Innovations Uses VR to Treat Veterans

Columbus startup uses technology in rehabilitation after traumatic brain injury

The immersive, computer-generated environment created by virtual reality technology can seem like something out of a movie, or a good party trick for when things start slowing down. While some VR headsets can make it seem like you’re swimming with dolphins, for Gray Matter Innovations in Columbus, VR provides a very real service: the treatment of military members and veterans with mild traumatic brain injury.

“We’re treating the issue of traumatic brain injury as a result of service in the military,” said Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist and founder of Gray Matter Innovations. “There are over 750,000 young service people who have incurred traumatic brain injury as a result of their voluntary service, usually caused by an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED blast, which disrupts the nerve cells in the brain. We’re providing a technological, rather than a physical, solution to their rehabilitation program.”

Gray Matter Innovations currently focuses their VR technology on rehabilitating vision after a traumatic brain injury. Because VR headsets create responsive environments that have auditory, visual and sometimes haptic (touch) elements, patients wearing the devices participate in modules that improve and retrain vision by rewiring the brain to restore the ability to see normally. The VR headset utilized by Gray Matter will also generate feedback, so a researcher or physician at a Veterans Affairs hospital can follow the eye movements of the participant.

“Right now, the rehab model we have in our nation is either in-patient rehab for a very short period of time where you get 5-6 hours of therapy a day, or rehab treatment at an outpatient facility where you may get three hours a week,” said Dr. Gordon. “What we’re talking about is the VR device being utilized at home in 15-minute increments multiple times a day. It will be physician directed, but the patients themselves will be in charge of the pace of their treatment—how hard they’re working and how quickly their brain will be able to assimilate to rethinking.”

Dr. Gordon is no stranger to traumatic brain injury, having suffered one herself. In her journey back to health, she described using computer modules and self-taught training to “reboot” her brain. With the advent of VR technology, her at-home regimen has become a reality for the veterans and service members she hopes to treat.

“Since it worked for me, I tested similar protocols on around 15 young veterans and have had positive results,” said Dr. Gordon. “I thought, ‘we need to get this out to the young population.’ So, we’ve been looking to expand our offerings to athletes to let them rehab themselves under supervision with the use of technology.”

Athlete rehab doesn’t seem far off for Gray Matter Innovations, which has the support and network of Rev1 Ventures, a partner of the Ohio Third Frontier in Columbus. Even as they expand and look to implement their technologies in VA hospitals nationwide, Dr. Gordon noted the importance of the state of Ohio as a home for her startup.

“Because our particular project is a medical prototype, it’s important that we have access to places like Ohio Health and The Ohio State University, which has one of the premier rehab programs in the country,” said Dr. Gordon. “Ohio is also the sixth-largest state in terms of veteran population, so to be able to support such a large part of our community with our solution makes me feel very thankful.”

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