$500,000 Investment to Launch the Assistive Technology Challenge to Improve Communication for People with ALS
Americas Oct 9, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The ALS Association, in partnership with Prize4Life, is pleased to announce The ALS Assistive Technology Challenge to revolutionize communication technology solutions for people living with ALS.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects neurons (nerve cells) in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. There is no cure and no life-prolonging treatments for the disease. Due to the total paralysis associated with ALS, patients are often left with very limited means of communication and might become completely locked in.
“This innovative challenge grant program will provide funds for the research and development of novel approaches to solving one of the most pressing needs of people with ALS—the ability to maintain their ability to communicate as the disease progresses,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., M.B.A., Chief Scientist for The ALS Association.
In the first phase of the program, grants of $50,000 will be awarded to several groups to develop functional prototypes of novel communication systems that incorporate ease of use and adaptability to the changing needs of ALS patients and demonstrate a likely path to scale-up for widespread use. In the second phase, participants will compete over a $400,000 prize to be awarded to the group with the most promising technology – as assessed directly on ALS patients – to further the development of the system. Initial submissions for Phase 1 funding requests are due November 9, 2015 (details below).
The ALS Assistive Technology Challenge grew out of a workshop, co-sponsored by The ALS Association and Prize4Life, that brought together key opinion leaders in the field of technology for ALS, and patient representatives, to assess the greatest unmet needs of ALS patients, and to review the most promising technological solutions available (or expected to be available in the near future) to address these needs. Read a summary of this workshop.
Continued ability to communicate has been identified by people living with ALS as one of the top priorities for maintaining quality of life. Unfortunately, current assistive communication systems do not fully meet the unique needs of people with ALS. “The name ‘assistive technology’ is misleading in the context of ALS,” noted Neta Zach, Ph.D., M.P.A., Chief Scientific Officer of Prize4Life. “For patients with ALS who struggle with communication or are completely unable to communicate in any other way, technology has the potential to be not just assistive, but transformative. The rapid growth in technological solutions for communication (touchscreens, hands-free devices, and more) demonstrates that there is a vast technological potential, in both industry and academia, awaiting to be harnessed for the betterment of the lives of ALS patients. This challenge aims to connect these improvements with the needs of ALS patients for the first time.”
Research groups interested in submitting proposals for Phase 1 funding can find full details here. Letters of intent and abstracts are due November 9, 2015. The Challenge Committee will issue requests for full proposals to the groups with the most promising proposals on December 14, 2015. Full proposals will be due January 15, 2016, with winners announced on March 1. Review of prototypes will take place in the fall of 2016, with the winner of Phase 2 funding announced in November.