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Neurology and Neurosurgery

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About Us

Message from the Founders   

Kata logo  

The human brain possesses the incredible capacity to change its own structure to learn, adapt, master, and even repair itself. We call this phenomenon plasticity, and its mysterious effects can happen at any age. Neuroscientists passionately strive to unlock these secrets. The prize - improved cognition, wellness, attention, mood, and even the potential to repair the brain after damage.

What has been discovered in the last decade is that experiential technology (interactive games, virtual and augmented reality, haptic interfaces, etc.) can exploit and augment plasticity. Hundreds of studies published over the past decade show that specific types of commercially available digital games that require visual spatial navigation, rapid decision making and focus, etc., have remarkable “transfer” effects. That is, training on these experiences have lasting effects outside of mastery of the actual experience, including: perception, attention, motor skills, and cognition. We are in the beginning of a new field of medical therapeutics: digital behavioral interventions. Although experiences can have deep effects upon the brain, scientists are only scratching the surface by analyzing off-the-shelf games that were intended as commercial entertainment. Building therapeutic interventions requires building experiences ground up, incorporating art, design, production, and technology at the highest levels of professional excellence. The very cause of these effects stem from the thoughtful crafting of an experience, at a level typically found at Disney, Pixar, or Apple; a level unfortunately all too rare in an academic institution or medical device company.

We started Kata to bridge the gap between professional experiential production and neuroscience, clinical neurology, and medical hardware. We strive to build experiences and technology from the ground up, with a focus on mission, and at a level that is consistent with the best productions in the industry. We mirror the thousands of hours that go into a level design in a video game, but with the crucial difference that the focus is on the subtleties required for patient treatment or wellness. Our designs require high-frequency iterative development with patients and users in countless game-play sessions in which they provide crucial feedback. Characters have been painstakingly crafted to elicit profound emotional responses. Some of the requirements for patients or the elderly population in this space are qualitatively different from what is needed in the entertainment marketplace. That said we have also understood the critical artistic similarities.

The core ethos of Kata is that the challenge of complex movement has profound benefits for cognition, wellness, and brain repair. Specifically, there is growing evidence that complex motor movement can have cognitive benefits that go beyond what has been reported for exercise alone. When designing experiences to treat motor impairments after stroke, maximizing rigorous and dynamic motor input is a requirement. New interactive technologies will allow people to engage in diverse and complex motor movements, even in the home, which was previously impossible.

Overall it has been a very exciting journey, combining art, medicine, technology, and neuroscience. We continue to build, discover, and craft immersive experiences, side by side with physicians, physical therapists, and scientists, with the common goal of pushing clinical care and wellness forward. We believe this is only possible by having a mission focused design group embedded in an academic hospital. Ultimately, we wish to scale and perfect these innovations into other hospitals. Kata is a true hybrid of academia, and industry, doing what neither can do in isolation. This website is a peek into the ethos and design philosophy behind Kata and hopefully provides the impetus for its expansion, partnerships, and growth.

a bird logo

Omar Ahmad
John Krakauer
Founders, Kata

 
 

Technology Overview

diagram

Kata designs experiences for neuro-motor training. Our designs incorporate proprietary technology, domain knowledge, and know-how, in the areas of:

  • complex motor movement input (both software and hardware)
  • physics animation
  • visual spatial challenges
  • compelling and engaging experiences

Combined, they form experiences with protocols to target areas such as rehabilitation after brain injury, neuro-motor stimulation for the aging, and a variety of other cognitive and motor-cognitive disorders and degenerative conditions including PTSD, depression, and pain management. More...


Experience Design Methodology

Experience Design Methodology Chart

Kata designed, from conception to patient bedside, a neuro-motor training protocol for post stroke rehabilitation comprising an award-winning experience and customized hardware. The system can be applied to the arm, leg, hand, or face – offering patients rehabilitation with unprecedented intensity and neuro-cognitive stimulation. This was done ground up in less than two years (including developing a customized medical gaming engine specifically tuned to the nuances of patient dynamics, and input devices). Below we describe our unique design process that combines the mission focus of industry, with the biological and scientific insights of academic medicine, to solve problems neither can do in isolation. It is precisely this model that Kata aims to preserve, nurture, and expand into myriad areas of medicine and wellness where digital behavioral interventions can have lasting benefits. 


Defining the Mission

medical problems list

The first step is to clearly identify a medical problem, and define a clinical mission goal. In post stroke rehab, the mission is to give a patient their movement back. For ADHD, the mission is to provide an experience which can increase the subject’s ability to focus. For a sedentary aging population, the mission is to stimulate both mind and body in engaging neuro-physical activity that provides compelling replay value to foster utilization. Our experiences can be applied to a wide array of clinical and degenerative conditions.

Although the case-study presented in this document is for stroke, The areas below represent the product development roadmap for Kata.


Medical and Scientific Insights

Teamwork in session

Kata’s core team then shadows physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other healthcare providers, directly interacting with their patients, absorbing and understanding the biology of disease, disorder, and degeneration. Basic design begins here. Whether it is the core experience, usability of an optical sensor, force measurement device, or understanding the psychology for engagement and adherence, solutions are patient focused. Insights are garnered from world leading care providers. Efficacy of existing solutions is studied. Basic ideas for new forms of treatment are devised. Ideas are combined with scientific rigor, from the literature, clinicians and scientists.


Creating a Solution - Iterating with Patients

dolphins, flatscreens, a patient

Next, the actual design process begins. The Kata team leads a larger team of software and hardware engineers, experience designers, and artists, both internally and externally with partners. The product/experience undergoes a unique iterative loop with patients and subjects in inpatient beds, outpatient facilities, nursing homes, and at the homes of patients and users. The experiences are optimized for efficacy, quality, adherence, and enjoyability. The protocol (hours needed) is defined. The experiences often require complex motor input, with software designs that engage the brain in a multitude of deliberate ways. They must be emotionally moving, accessible, and compel a patient into hours of appropriate neuro-motor stimulation that will have lasting effects upon the brain. Advanced pilot studies are conducted.


Clinical Studies and Changing Clinical Care

Flatscreens & patients
Illustrated here, Kata designed a custom force sensor and hand support device to detect residual finger movements in patients after brain injury or stroke, who would otherwise be classified as plegic. The device is used as an input controller for our rehabilitation experiences, and allows patients to engage in therapy that was previously unavailable for the affected limb.

With sufficiently promising data from advanced pilot studies, the core solutions can now go through FDA design controls and into larger clinical studies. In certain scenarios (intense therapy for chronic stroke patients, aging, wellness), where protocol adherence is enforced and obvious general benefit is offered, meaningful data will be gathered from product usage for efficacy studies. In other clinical areas (ADHD, depression, spinal cord injury), larger studies and clinical trials will precede scaling. The product is further refined for widespread clinical adoption (GUI for therapists, virtual therapists, database connectivity, human factor analysis, etc.).