UTSA-HSC biomedical engineering graduate student co-founds company

Health Science Center

Graduate student Travis Block (left) and faculty mentor Xiao-Dong Chen, M.D., Ph.D., at the UT Health Science Center’s South Texas Research Facility

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(May 1, 2013) -- Graduate student Travis Block is an accidental entrepreneur, you might say. He owns a bicycle-customization business with partners in several cities, even while completing his master's degree in the joint biomedical engineering program of the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and UTSA. He plans to apply to the M.D.-Ph.D. dual-degree program in the Health Science Center School of Medicine.

The San Antonio native and Holmes High School graduate, 23, attended the University of Rochester, N.Y., where he and four classmates developed an adaptive sports attachment for bicycles. The attachment, called the MonoMano Cycling Control System, is designed to make steering and braking possible for wounded warriors, stroke survivors and others who live with deficits on one side.

"The company started as a senior project that we ended up passing," Block said. "We incorporated as MonoMano Cycling Inc. in April 2012. I was a biomedical engineering undergraduate and wasn't planning on doing the thing with the bikes, but we saw how big the need was. A huge number of people, 7 million in the U.S., have hemiparesis -- or unilateral weakness -- and not a lot of exercise equipment caters to them. This is doubly tragic because the chance of a second event goes up if they're not exercising and taking care of themselves."

Customized bicycles can cost consumers $5,000, Block said. The attachment enables wounded warriors and others to take any cycle on the market and get the same utility out of it for one-twentieth of the cost of a customized bike, he said. The $250 attachment clips to the handlebar and gear and brake cables. Riders can apply the front and rear brakes with a single lever and shift the front and rear gears and steer the bike with one hand.

"We took it to an adaptive sports expo, and people asked to buy one," said Block. "We said we have only one, but after they asked, we decided to make more of them."

Block's partners are scattered around the country in New York City, Rochester, N.Y., Baltimore, Md., and Palm Beach, Fla. "We are doing it remotely," he said. "We're all working the company wherever we are. We communicate via email and Skype."

The attachment recently won a da Vinci Award for Accessibility and Universal Design.

Block is completing his master's degree thesis on the use of adult stem cells in tissue engineering. His faculty mentor is Xiao-Dong Chen, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Health Science Center.

>> Learn more about the UTSA-UTHSCSA joint graduate program in biomedical engineering.

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