Abilitech Medical

Reinvigorating Neuromuscular Conditions With Technology And Innovation




Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are affected by upper-limb weakness caused by neuromuscular conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Spinal Cord Injury. With no good solutions currently on the market, many people with arm weakness are unable to perform activities of daily living such as eating, using a phone or computer, or completing tasks of self-care. Faced with the loss of physical strength, independence, and ability to fully engage with friends and family, their quality of life declines.


Angie Zavoral Conley, Founder & CEO

Recognizing the need for advancements in the treatment of neuromuscular disability, and relying on her experience as a senior product manager at Medtronic, Angie Zavoral Conley founded Abilitech™ Medical in 2016 to create a solution. The company’s mission is to restore independence to patients with upper limb neuromuscular conditions by offering a one-of-a-kind wearable assistive device that allows its user to perform independent activities of daily living.

“We are creating a powered orthotic brace with an intelligent design that enhances the patient’s mobility,” says Conley. “There is a wheelchair for those who cannot use their legs, there is a prosthetic solution for those who do not have arms, but there is not a solution for the weak or injured arm. Abilitech’s vision is to create a device to restore independence for those with upper-limb neuromuscular conditions. The Abilitech™ Assist device has the potential to become the ‘wheelchair for the arms,’” adds Conley.

Designing and testing a solution to meet such a widespread need within a highly diverse population is not easy. This is not a device you can test in an animal lab and simulate different etiologies with varying levels of progressive degeneration—likely why no other company has succeeded in filling this market need. A successful solution must be safe, user-friendly, lightweight, and work with patient strength.

The Assist device is engineered with guidance from physicians, occupational and physical therapists, and patients and their caregivers, differentiating it from many technologies developed in a research lab. Multiple prototypes, bench testing, and designs were developed to determine how to best create one device that can be custom fit without needing to be custom-fabricated.

Conley adds “Our clinical relationships in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, HealthPartners Neuroscience Center, and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Allina Health have been incredibly supportive in helping us to understand the patient population needs to develop a meaningful clinical device. They recognize the unmet patient and clinical needs and have been very collaborative in our development efforts.”

The Abilitech Assist device will be the first in-home device on the market to provide functional assistance and support to both the elbow and the shoulder. Requiring minimal muscle strength from the patient, the unique assist allows for supported range of motion for the shoulders and elbows. The device itself is lightweight, easy to use, and comfortable.

Dr. Mark Gormley, Associate Medical Director of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, sees patients every day who could benefit from such a device. “Patients with neuromuscular conditions have historically relied on a family member or other caregiver to help feed and care for them. If there is not a family member who can care for the patient, the costs can be astronomical,” states Dr. Gormley.

A personal care attendant averages $30,000 per year for eight hours a day and a skilled nursing home can cost up to $250,000 a year. “Beyond the economic impact, the personal satisfaction and joy a patient has in regaining some level of independence is invaluable.”

In 2020, the company plans to bring the device to market with FDA registration. It will also initiate a 75-patient multi-center clinical study of Muscular Dystrophy patients to measure patient outcomes and the impact on their quality of life. In the future, Abilitech is planning to develop its technology platform to create solutions for patients with stroke damage, Brachial Plexus Injury, Parkinson’s, and rotator cuff injuries.

The breakthrough year comes on the heels of major recognition throughout the country for Abilitech. The company earned historic back-to-back wins in Minnesota—named top among the state’s med tech companies by the Minnesota High Tech Association at the 2019 TEKNE awards and 2019 grand prize winner and top woman-owned business at the 2019 Minnesota Cup competition. Abilitech was also named a Top 20 Healthcare Startups in flyover country by J.P. Morgan, was part of the Texas Medical Center Accelerator Program (TMCx), was recognized as a Top 10 Medical Device Startup by MedTech Outlook, a “20 Medical Device Startups You Need to Know” by MassDevice, and a “Top 20 Startup” in Flyover Country by The Observer.

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