Levi Shapiro, founder MHealth Israel, a nonprofit that assists health-related start-ups; Dr. Scott Dulchavsky, CEO, Henry Ford Innovation Institute; Ziv Yekutieli, CEO, Montfort; and Dima Gershman, CTO, Montfort.
Levi Shapiro, founder MHealth Israel, a nonprofit that assists health-related start-ups; Dr. Scott Dulchavsky, CEO, Henry Ford Innovation Institute; Ziv Yekutieli, CEO, Montfort; and Dima Gershman, CTO, Montfort.

Israeli startup wins first Henry Ford artificial intelligence challenge.

Montfort, an Israeli startup company specializing in neurological disorders, has been chosen as the first winner of Henry Ford Health System’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Challenge. 

Montfort has developed a way to use smartphones to measure, record and analyze data from patients with certain neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and tremors.

The AI Challenge began last year as part of Henry Ford Innovation’s Global Technology Development Program, funded through a grant from the William Davidson Foundation.

This diagram shows movement measured by the phone app and sent to a physician.
This diagram shows movement measured by the phone app and sent to a physician.

“Henry Ford has long been an international leader in neurosciences research and treatment and that makes Montfort a great fit for this challenge,” said Scott Dulchavsky, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of the Henry Ford Innovation Institute (see sidebar on next page) and chairman of surgery and surgeon-in-chief at Henry Ford Hospital.

Dulchavsky added there were 10 finalists among approximately 50 applicants for the $75,000 challenge grant.       

“We wanted a startup that had raised less than $10 million, was willing to work with our staff and had something scalable that our health system could use right away,” he explained.

Montfort co-founder and CEO Ziv Yekutieli is an electrical engineer who has worked in Israeli high-tech startups for 15 years.

“The first time I faced the impact of neurological disorders was when my legendary high school math teacher, Yair Cohen, was diagnosed with ALS. I have met him several times during his last years, witnessing the sad decline of a brilliant, humorous and adventurous person I admired. Yair’s life has strengthened my inclination toward engineering; his death got me interested in neurophysiology. Contemplating between the two, I ended up studying both, believing that many patients can be helped by linking these two disciplines,” Yekutieli said.

Yekutieli, in conjunction with co-founder and chief technology officer Dima Gershman, developed Montfort’s software applications that enable neurological patients to measure their body movements. A special application is installed on patients’ phones — Android or iOS — that picks up data from the phone’s built-in accelerometer, gyroscope and touch screen. Such measurements include the time a patient requires to stand up from a chair, balance in a standing position and then sit back down. A report is then sent to the physician who uses a second version of the phone application. Montfort’s system is being used at multiple medical centers in Israel.

Dr. Peter LeWitt
Dr. Peter LeWitt

“When a patient comes in after taking an expensive drug for three months, we ask the patient what’s changed. They’re not always sure. It would be nice to have objective measures,” explained Peter LeWitt, M.D., director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Program at Henry Ford Hospital.

Patients typically are tested during medical visits, which can be weeks or months apart in an artificial setting. With monitoring of daily motor functions at home, the physician learns much more about a patient’s condition.

“People don’t always see improvement, and this is readily available and so user-friendly,” LeWitt said.    

Montfort’s Forte

Montfort is one of many companies working in the field of smartphone and related applications to help consumers, such as fitness buffs and patients, monitor and record various health measures. Some device applications send messages to remind patients to check their glucose levels or take blood pressure medication, for example.

But measurement and detailed data collection are only the first steps for Montfort. “Their secret sauce is how they analyze this excess data,” Dulchavsky said.

The analysis relies on machine- learning paradigms — very powerful computer technology that notices patterns, becomes more efficient over time and learns to ignore data that is not central to a research question.

Through the collection of information from many patients (who are not individually identified) and the use of “artificial intelligence” algorithms, this data can be used to identify risk factors for a disease in another example or possibly to predict when an epilepsy patient might have a seizure.

The next steps for Montfort’s innovation will include a meeting between the company’s team and Henry Ford subject-matter experts who can provide in-depth product market assessments and help plan a larger study of these applications for neurological conditions.

Dulchavsky anticipates that clinical trials of the smartphone technology will begin in the Detroit area later this year. Another AI challenge will be announced in the spring, he said.

Henry Ford Innovation Institute

Henry Ford Health System seeks to improve health care and patients’ experiences, whether through simple innovations like a better hospital gown or an advanced method of planning surgeries through 3-D models. Its Innovation Institute was created in 2012 to bring together the staff and resources — both internal and external — to “turn great ideas into transformative products.”    

The institute helps assess, develop and commercialize product ideas from its own staff and other organizations for use around the globe. The institute provides experts to assess market potential for health-related products, connect inventors with research partners and facilities and provide a testing site for medical care innovations.

One component is the Global Technology Development Program in Israel, backed by a grant from the William Davidson Foundation. The program is designed to identify advanced health care technologies in Israel, and co-develop and launch them in the U.S.