Jack Rubertus’ experience in Ohio State’s 2018 Brain Health Hack provided a roadmap to success in the 2019 competition. It all hinged on recruiting a team loaded with diverse skills to tackle a project that could improve a therapy method for years to come.
In one whirlwind March weekend, Rubertus’ team, dubbed “VrNS” (a play on virtual reality and vagus nerve stimulation), built a virtual reality game to help stroke patients rehabilitate motor skills, memory and cognition for faster recovery. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the body.
For their efforts, the audience of students, Ohio State faculty and representatives from the health care and tech industry awarded the VrNS team the Open Challenge title, one of three top prizes that earned them a ticket to present their project at the national Brain Health and Performance Summit.
Click the dots to learn what each team member brought to the table.
During his 2018 summer internship at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Rubertus researched electrical stimulation on the nerves in the neck. It gave him the idea to combine virtual reality with vibrational stimulation instead of electrical. He then recruited the team. During the competition, his neuroscience background also came in handy.
Stanfield oversaw software development, including coding, gaming construction and virtual reality creation. His virtual reality game included measurements and completion time that can be factored into a bio-feedback system that can help lower heart rate, anxiety and depression.
Role on the team: Patel wore many hats as the team’s project manager. He managed the team, performed medical research and worked as the communications liaison among mentors, the team and those providing resources. Patel also created a market segmentation model along with storyboarding the team’s pitch.
Role on the team: Good bolstered the team’s understanding of the human body because of his biology background, giving VrNS a baseline of medical and nerve knowledge. He also organized and further researched the medical side of the project, guiding the team to its goal of helping stroke victims rehabilitate.
Role on the team: Vetter created the hardware components of the vagus nerve stimulation device and contributed to the virtual reality creation and software. He also engineered a micro-controller complete with three different settings for the therapeutic device.
From Vetter’s engineering background to Patel’s pharmacy studies and Rubertus’ understanding of neuroscience, this single project illustrates how combined skillsets and talents can heal in creative ways. And it’s a common thread through all the teams at the annual Brain Health Hack.
“A variety of backgrounds provides a holistic approach,” Rubertus said. “This is very important when it comes to the medical field because patients and doctors come from numerous backgrounds. It is important to work together as a team in order to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping a patient healthy.”
The VrNS project is receiving a provisional patent for additional research and advancement. Rubertus and his team believe their device can also be adapted for therapies involving other traumatic brain injuries.