From space to marketplace

Houston medical devices company using NASA balancing technology prepares for commercial launch

Balancing is important throughout your life, and Zibrio has the tools and tips for you to use to stay centered. Pexels

In her postdoctoral work at NASA, Katharine Forth and her colleague were tasked with finding a new way to track the balance of astronauts on the moon.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

She didn't know it at the time, but working on this technology would lead her to create Zibrio, The Balance Company with her colleague, Erez Lieberman Aiden.

Zibrio is a health company that aims to be the gold standard of measuring balance. The Zibrio scale calculates users' weight like a typical scale and rates their balance on scale of 1 to 10.

The scale gathers data from your weight, your postural control, your muscles and other factors to calculate the rating. Andrea Case-Rogers, chief experience officer at Zibrio, describes a perfect rating of 10 as elusive for most, or "Simone Biles on a good day."

After seeing their rating, users can identify any problems and start taking steps to improve their balance. Zibrio will also come with a smartphone app, so users can track their balance, any fluctuations and progress over a long-term period.

By using the scale and app together, users can gain a greater understand of what in their lifestyle is helping versus hurting their balance.

From space to the marketplace
After co-founding Zibrio together in 2015, Forth and Aiden have taken the company a long way since then.

Zibrio is a finalist for the 2019 SXSW Pitch in the health and wearables category. In 2015, the company was part of the Texas Medical Center's TMCx medical devices cohort. Both programs highlight the innovative technology being used as well as the big impact that Zibrio could have for both consumers and clinicians.

Zibrio already has conducted clinical trials all over Houston by working with Memorial Hermann and UT Physicians, and the company is currently focused on fundraising. Forth and her team of five will use these funds to get the scale and smartphone app consumer-ready and launched.

The commercial launch for both the scale and app is planned for later this year.

"We're currently finalizing the design with the manufacturer, so they can make the scale available commercially," Forth says. "Since 2015, we've been fundraising, building prototype scales and conducting clinical trials."

Finding balance at any age
A common misconception is that our balance deteriorates in older age. In actuality, a lifetime of behavior and activity affects our balance in later years. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death and unexpected injuries in older adults.

"If you have been mostly sedentary your whole life, by the time you hit your later years, your lower limb strength is weakened affecting your ability to move." Forth says, "so many factors feed into your balance, which means there are so many things that can be done to lower your fall risk."

When Forth and her team ran a balance program at a senior living facility, they halved the number of falls in two years. By creating an awareness of balance, they were able to drive changed behaviors in the seniors, in turn, improving their balance.

According to Case-Rogers, Zibrio is bringing the balance conversation to people in 60s and 70s who want to keep their lifestyle and not deal with mobility and health issues later. They want to show investors that there is a market for wellness product like Zibrio among older people.

Zibrio will sponsor the National Senior Games, the largest multi-sport competition for seniors in the world, this summer in Albuquerque. With over 10,000 athletes, Forth and her team are excited to introduce Zibrio to a larger audience.

Forth firmly believes balance measurements should be a part of routine wellness exams and home self-monitoring, especially in later years.

"When athletes stand on a scale and see their number, it's like a light goes on in their heads and they realize how important balance is," says Forth. "That's what I love, we have this great product that opens up the conversation about and is really helping people in middle age and beyond."

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A Rice University scientist will be working on the team for NASA's latest Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."

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