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Charles Barkley invests in Duke alum's medical technology company

<p>Sanders, Graduate School '15, started medical technology company NeuroVice.</p>

Sanders, Graduate School '15, started medical technology company NeuroVice.

One Duke alumna’s passion, resilience and planning landed her company an investment from retired NBA star Charles Barkley. 

Ashlyn Sanders, Graduate School ‘15, is the founder of NeuroVice, a medical technology company committed to alleviating the painful consequences of seizures. Inspired by her own experience with Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal and causes disorientation and seizures, Sanders is on a mission to change the current seizure safety guideline that discourages putting anything in one’s mouth during a seizure. 

“When you’re an entrepreneur, you want to innovate in the white space and we’re going where no one has ever gone,” Sanders said. “We’re looking at seizures from a new perspective—oral health—which, unfortunately, has been neglected in the marketplace.”

Sanders’s progress with NeuroVice was not a quick glide to glory. In 2017, she wanted to raise $20,000 in order to start NeuroVice, but it was slow going. 

Three years later, Sanders has made several adjustments. Currently, Sanders and her team are in the third stage of developing a device called the Protector Against Tongue Injury. PATI is the first symptom-management oral device technology that prevents tongue biting and drooling during seizures. It can be used as an intervention in hospitals and neurology clinics to help those who might have seizures during an electroencephalogram procedure. 

PATI has recently been expanded to help anyone with a seizure disorder, not just those with epilepsy. In growing the uses of the product, Sanders also knew she needed to be proactive in seeking support to take her invention to the next level. This was where Barkley, a former player for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, came into the picture.

“Ashlyn sought me out after she’d read in the press that Barkley was funding women in technology,” said Tara August, senior vice president of talent relations and special projects at Turner Sports, for which Barkley works. “He met with her a few times and was very impressed with her idea, her passion and the plan that she had laid out for her product.”

Sanders has continually drawn from her own experience with brain injury, striding past setbacks through her passion for scientific innovation. Her undergraduate math major built big-picture critical thinking skills, and she said her experience as an intern in the White House Office of Science and Technology policy allowed her to see the importance of technological innovation in driving the paradigm shift of patient autonomy in medicine, she said.

After getting her product on the market, Sanders plans to attend medical school and pursue neurology or neuropsychiatry before entering the public service sector.

Sanders’s kaleidoscope of interests at the confluence of technology, health and policy have guided her as she works to improve the lives of those with mental illnesses and brain disorders. 

Ultimately, Sanders said what has inspired her the most is how her own journey impacted the lives of those around her, including her family and followers who stumble upon her name and email her notes of gratitude for her role in empowering seizure patients. 

“I really want to be an example of how hard work pays off and someone who is brave, courageous and willing to take risks,” Sanders said. 

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Turner Sports is Barkley's employer, not the agency through which he is funding Sanders. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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