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Could paralysed patients be walking again by 2024?

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ONWARD's ARC EX and ARC IM technologies could bring life changing effects to those with spinal cord issues

People who have been paralysed for years could be enabled to stand and walk again through revolutionary technology set to launch within the next four years – and a breakthrough in upper body movement is expected even sooner.

The groundbreaking work of ONWARD is set to deliver the long-awaited advances for people with spinal cord injury in enabling them to regain the ability of movement.

Through the development of its ARC EX and ARC IM technologies, ONWARD is committed to delivering life-changing outcomes for spinal cord injured people.

Trials of its ARC EX device got underway in the UK – at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow – United States, Canada and the Netherlands, in January, with the technology expected to be commercially available in late 2023.

An external, non-invasive platform, the ARC EX is set to deliver movement and strength in the hands and upper body of people with spinal cord injury, compared to rehabilitation training alone.

And in one of the most keenly-awaited health tech breakthroughs of recent years, its ARC IM technology – an implantable pulse generator and lead which stimulates the spinal cord and is controlled by wearable components and a smartwatch – is set to go into trials mid next year, with its commercial launch anticipated in 2024.

Alongside its potential to enable paralysed people to stand and walk again with little or no assistance, other benefits could include improvements in blood pressure regulation, sexual function, bladder and bowel control and reduction in spasticity.

“This is very real and it is happening, and we hope it will bring strength, function and meaningful quality of life to so many people,” Dave Marver, CEO of ONWARD, tells NR Times.

The technology breakthroughs come after many years of groundbreaking pre-clinical research, which led to the formation of ONWARD – formerly known as GTX Medical – in 2014 to take this forward.

Bringing together researchers and surgeons in Switzerland, working together at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), the company is backed by many of Europe’s leading life science venture capital investors in bringing its solutions to reality.

“A lot of funding has gone into this field of research and we are taking this forward to create the products which can translate into commercial reality globally,” says Dave.

“We have put together a great team to build this company, raise the capital needed to fund the trials and the R&D, and this is a very fulfilling challenge and responsibility for all of us.

“We are well on the way towards ARC EX and we have started pivotal trials at 15 sites worldwide, and we hope to launch this in late 2023.

“We know that the movement and function of the upper extremities is what people with spinal cord injury value the highest, so we are targeting that first. In the near future, that should be a reality.

“Following that will be our implant, which will help unlock more autonomous benefits. We expect the pivotal trials to begin in mid 2022 with commercialisation most likely in 2024.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the many challenges it has presented to global businesses, ONWARD has managed to continue with its work as planned.

“We’ve been affected like everyone else in having to work from home and close our offices, we also have a growing team and have had to bring people into the business with limited interactions, but the pandemic has not impeded us,” says Dave.

“Our vision of helping people with spinal cord injury is very unifying and we are all dedicated to trying to achieve that. We’re all highly motivated in the team, as are our research partners, and we’re working towards delivering our platforms in the very near future.”

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QEF’s accessible technology wins international awards

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The new Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey, developed by Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF), has won 2 international CEDIA awards for its innovative use of accessible technology, which was supplied by technology solutions partner Imperium Building Systems Ltd.

These awards recognise the improvement technology can make to the lives of disabled people, which is reflected at a UN event that forms part of this year’s International Day for People with Disabilities. The global UN awareness day today (December 3) highlights the challenges and discrimination disabled people face around the world, and pushes for positive change towards greater inclusion, accessibility and equality for disabled people.

This year on December 3, the UN is co-hosting an event specifically looking at ‘Reducing Inequalities through Technologies’ noting that: ‘persons with physical, sensory, cognitive/learning or invisible disabilities represent nearly 15 per cent of the world population’ 1 and that ‘for some kinds of disabilities, assistive devices/technologies are key “equalizers” that promote inclusion and full participation in all industries and dimensions of life’. 1

The event also highlights that ‘One billion persons with some form of disability can benefit from assistive technologies that can facilitate their social, economic and political engagement, including their participation in decision-making processes that affect their lives and ambitions’ 1

QEF’s Care and Rehabilitation Centre provides neuro rehabilitation for people after an acquired brain injury, stroke, incomplete spinal injury or other neurological condition and clients are supported by expert staff to relearn core skills, so they can rebuild their lives and be as independent as possible.

QEF’s vision for the new Care and Rehabilitation Centre was to use technology to give each person greater control over their personal space, no matter what a person’s impairment may be. It’s easy to take for granted being able to close the blinds when the sun is in your eyes or turn the lights off when you want to go to sleep – until you can’t do it for yourself. QEF wanted a system that empowered clients to have a greater sense of self-determination and influence over everyday activities during their rehabilitation.

Imperium developed the project with QEF, producing a cost-effective ‘smart home’ solution, using easily available technology that is adaptable to each persons’ specific requirements. Five connected smart devices have been installed in each bedroom which can be controlled in different ways; either with standard voice commands, pre-programmed accessible switches or programmable text to talk commands.

Ann, a client at QEF’s Care and Rehabilitation Centre, says: “I wasn’t sure about it at first – it was odd to sit in my room on my own and talk to something, but now I use it all the time. You can have the blinds down, lights on or off or the TV on or off. It’s another step on the journey of independence, so I don’t have to ask someone to do it for me.”

Chris Thorne, director of Imperium, says: “The technology we have installed for QEF will allow service users to have control over the lights in their room, temperature, day light via shading blinds, and audio-visual equipment. So, someone could stay in one position and manage their entire room, either with switches or voice controls. It also needed to be technology that service users could easily access after they left the service; creating independence that could continue beyond QEF’s walls.”

The international CEDIA awards recognise technical excellence and product innovation in the home technology industry. Imperium’s project with QEF was announced in November 2021 as winners in the ‘Multi Dwelling Unit Design’ category and also went on to win the overall award for ‘Life Lived Best at Home’ which reflects the project that gives the best experience for a client.

Judges for the Life Lived Better at Home award said: “This entry is outstanding for its sensitive and pragmatic response to the brief and for the way the technology meets the changing needs of the users. And all this achieved on an extraordinarily tight budget. I hope there will be many more projects like this in the future!”

Karen Deacon, QEF’s chief executive, says: “Our new Care and Rehabilitation Centre gave us an opportunity to use technology in an innovative way that would directly benefit clients as they relearn core skills. Adapting to life after an acquired brain injury is challenging for anyone and if technology can help give someone back their sense of control over everyday activities then we wanted to be able to offer that as part of our neuro rehabilitation programme.”

  1. Reducing Inequalities Through Technologies: A Perspective on Disability Inclusive Development https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2021/11/IDPD2021ConceptNote.pdf

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Webinar to explore the future of brain injury rehab

Join our panel of expert guests as we discuss the challenges and opportunities in improving patients’ lives

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The future of brain injury rehabilitation and how patients can be supported in new ways is to be examined by leading experts from across the sector at an event held next week. 

Brain injury rehab has made huge strides over the years, innovating and developing to better meet the needs of people living with life-changing injuries. 

Through changes in technology, developments in medicine and the advances in neurorehabilitation, brain injury patients should face an outlook which is better than ever before. 

However, the lack of resource within health services, exacerbated by the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and mounting pressures on the NHS, mean that progress and change is not being seen at the rate many would hope for.  

In 2020, the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine (BSRM) identified the increased pressure on neurorehabilitation, highlighting the “unquantifiable additional case-load of patients with post-Covid disability presenting with a wide range of problems due to cardio-pulmonary, musculoskeletal, neurological and psychological/ psychiatric complications of the disease.”

In an upcoming webinar – What does the future of brain injury rehabilitation look like? – to be held on Wednesday next week (December 8th) and organised by NRC Medical Experts in association with NR Times, this matter will be examined to assess the scale of the challenge, the opportunities that exist, and what more can be done to better support patients. 

The panel will comprise:

The live hour-long event, from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, will include a panel debate, with questions welcomed from the audience. 

“Health and social care services have been under increasing pressure from an ageing population for decades and this has now been exacerbated by the disruption created by COVID-19,” says Edmund. 

“Brain injury rehabilitation services have always been poorly resourced in the UK, and are now under increased strain while professionals are diverted into the acute management and rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients. 

“It is essential therefore that we consider how to improve service delivery models so that people with brain injury do not fall further behind in the queue. 

“Technological innovation in its many forms offers much potential here, but realising this will be a substantial undertaking for which we are as yet ill-prepared. 

“During this webinar we will explore some of the major opportunities and problems.”

To attend the webinar, registration is required in advance. To sign up, visit here 

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Thousands supported by communication training

In its first year, the Communication Access project has engaged over 4,500 organisations and individuals

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Thousands of organisations and individuals across the UK have benefitted from an initiative to support people with communication difficulties since its launch a year ago. 

The Communication Access UK scheme, a free e-learning tool, delivers training on accessible face-to-face, telephone and online conversation and customer service, in support of the millions of people in the UK who live with some form of speech, language or communication disability. 

Organisations that complete the training will be able to display the Communication Access Symbol in their workplace, demonstrating their commitment to supporting customers and staff who experience difficulties in communication. 

More than 4,500 businesses, organisations and individuals have already taken part in the initiative, which launched last November and was developed by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), in partnership with the Stroke Association, Headway, MND Association, Business Disability Forum, Communication Matters, The Makaton Charity, and the National Network of Parent Carer Forums.

And on the first anniversary of its launch, two organisations have achieved landmark ‘firsts’ in support of Communication Access. 

Barnsley FC has become the first football club in the UK to undertake Communication Access training and commit to supporting people with speech, language and communication barrier. Its charity arm, Reds in the Community, has also signed up to the initiative.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) has also become the first NHS Trust in England to gain accreditation to the standard, offering the package to its entire workforce. 

The success of the scheme to date comes as the campaign to secure better access to speech and language therapy continues, with thousands supporting a petition to the Government and 20 APPGs calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson for action.

“Communication disability in the UK affects millions of people, so I’ve been thrilled to see so many organisations and individuals register for the free multi-award winning Communication Access training in the last year,” says Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ chief executive, Kamini Gadhok.

“Barnsley Football Club has just become the first football club to be CAUK accredited, while North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust is the first NHS Trust to commit to training its entire workforce to enable them to provide communication accessible services and it’s been fabulous to see organisations setting the bar for others in this way.

“Of course, we’d like to see many more businesses and people register for the training, so please visit the website and register for the training today.”

Barnsley FC’s CEO, Khaled El-Ahmad, said: “Our club has a number of touchpoints, both of digital and physical nature, and it is integral that we provide the best service possible to supporters. 

“Knowing that we are making strides to communicate in an inclusive manner is positive, as we look to improve our offering and overall experience for individuals living with disabilities at Oakwell.”

Andrea Bell, deputy chief nurse at NDHT, added: “At NDHT, we encounter a huge variety of patients with extra communication needs, from those who may have had a stroke to people with visual or hearing impairments. It’s vital that we are able to communicate with them to give them the best possible care.

“We’re extremely proud to be the first Trust in England to become part of Communication Access, and we hope other Trusts will follow our lead in facilitating the best possible communication with patients.”

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