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Grant will promote growth of O’Hara company

O’HARA: When Howison Schroeder arrived at Neuro Kinetics last year, he knew the 18-year-old bio-medical company would need a makeover analogous to the entire region’s economy.

Schroeder, former founder/owner of Schroeder Industries in McKees Rocks, brought in medical engineer Dr. Alexander Kinderman, and the new management team aimed to reinvigorate the company created in 1985 by Jan Parmentier.

Parmentier was a pioneer in his field, but when his company lost him to cancer in 1997, it lost its leader and main scientist.

The company became stagnant and began to lose market share. Like the Pittsburgh-area economy as a whole, Neuro Kinetics needed to get savvier about business and more aggressive about pursuing innovative technology, Schroeder said.

“We’ve all worked tirelessly to get this company on its feet,” Schroeder said.

When Kinderman arrived, he realized that Parmentier was so brilliant that many of his ideas were technically impossible during the company founder’s lifetime.

But making use of evolving technology and innovation, Neuro Kinetics has been able in recent months to take some of Parmentier’s inventions to the next level and to invent new products in the same field.

Neuro Kinetics now is pursuing several new patents. It has about $1 million in orders for the company’s sophisticated equipment used for researching and diagnosing problems with the human balance system.

Thursday, the Allegheny County economic development department granted Neuro Kinetics a $100,000 grant to help the company fill those orders and keep growing.

“New ideas are the engine and capital is the gasoline,” Schroeder said.”We’ve got a million dollars worth of back orders we’ve got to get parts for, and get out the door, by the end of the year.”

Parmentier focused his business on sophisticated clinical rotary chairs for researchers and doctors to test patients’ balance.

Neuro Kinetics has orders for a pair of the chairs to go to hospitals in Pennsylvania and England.

The company also is developing high-tech goggles equipped with sophisticated digital cameras that can read the split-second movement of the human eye. By mapping these movements, doctors can diagnose hard-to-detect neurological problems that affect balance.

“There is nothing like this out there now,” Kinderman said. “Physicians and researchers will be able to have a sophisticated analysis of what is happening with a patient and someday will be able to treat these disorders.”

Research and new technology in this field has real-life applications in everything from head-injury treatment to fighter pilot and astronaut training.

It is particularly important for doctors aiming to reduce the number of falls by elderly people. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among people over age 65, so government and health officials hope research into the field of the human balance system can produce treatments that will reduce this statistic.

County officials also praised Neuro Kinetics for its contribution to the regional economy. County Executive Jim Roddey said the key to job growth in the region will be small to mid-sized high-tech companies like Neuro Kinetics.

“Most of the jobs in Allegheny County in the next 10 years will come from small companies like this one,” Roddey said.


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