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First-of-its-kind brain scanner supports children with epilepsy

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The UK’s first wearable brain scanner of its kind to be dedicated to paediatric use is now in use at a specialist clinic for children with epilepsy. 

The optically pumped magnetometer magnetoencephalography (OPM-MEG) system, based on technology developed by researchers at UCL and the University of Nottingham, is integrated into a magnetically shielded room at a new diagnostic suite hosted by the Young Epilepsy charity.

Professor Gareth Barnes, who has led the project at the UCL Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, said: “This is the UK’s first MEG brain scanner that will be dedicated to a paediatric clinical population. 

“It is the younger children with epilepsy who benefit the most from early diagnosis and treatment, but these children are traditionally the most difficult to scan. The new system will not only allow us to scan younger children, but the non-invasive brain images it supplies may also help minimise, or entirely remove, some invasive surgical procedures.”

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a diagnostic tool which measures the changes in magnetic field generated by neuronal activity in the brain. This activity occurs naturally and the whole scan is completely non-invasive. 

An MEG study is recognised as one of the most advanced methods of recording and evaluating brain function and its use in epilepsy is well established. 

However, traditional MEG scanners are optimised for adults and are of limited use in children. Conventional MEG technology also requires a child to stay completely still for long periods, or even be sedated during the scan.

OPM-MEG makes the scan far more accessible for children, especially those with complex health conditions, as it allows them to wear a helmet, move about within the magnetically shielded room and undertake activities whilst the scan happens. The helmet is adaptable to fit a child of any age. 

In addition, the new scanner offers higher sensitivity and spatial accuracy compared to the current ones.

The development offers clinicians a far better chance of capturing the rich data necessary to inform their decisions on the best possible treatment pathway for children with complex neurological conditions.

Rosemarie Pardington, director of integrated care at Young Epilepsy, explained: “At Young Epilepsy, we are always mindful that each and every child is different. The way their epilepsy affects them will be unique, and personal to them. 

“Having a facility like the MEG is going to make an absolutely massive difference to the children and their families.

“The wonderful thing is that clinicians already recognise MEG as a reliable tool on which to base difficult decisions, such as surgery options, due to the richness and the reliability of the data. This takes it to a wearable form and makes it all a much easier experience for children.”

Conventional MEG recordings are made inside a magnetically shielded room, which suppresses environmental magnetic noise. Rooms built for current MEG systems are very large and require multiple layers of expensive metal alloy for the shielding. In addition, conventional MEG systems rely on magnetic field detectors which must be cooled to -269°C in order to operate.

OPM-MEG uses a different type of sensor – optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs), which don’t need cooling to work. In the new system the patient wears a comfortable helmet with sensors attached, meaning that the sensors are closer to the scalp.

The OPM-MEG system also uses a new type of magnetically shielded room – the light Mu-Room developed by the project partnership. 

The newly created room at Young Epilepsy’s health and research centre in Surrey is lighter and cheaper than traditional magnetically shielded rooms. 

This new development, coupled with the new sensors, will eventually offer a feasible, and affordable option for many hospitals.

The research project, led by UCL and the University of Nottingham, was funded by Wellcome, and Young Epilepsy have also worked with Cerca Magnetics Ltd and Magnetic Shields Ltd to bring the scanner to clinic.

Tech

GripAble expands clinical team with experienced hand therapist

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GripAble, the company behind the digital mobile assessment and rehabilitation platform, has strengthened its clinical team with the appointment of hand therapist Liz Gwynne. 

An occupational therapist with more than 10 years’ clinical experience across both NHS and private practice, Liz joins GripAble from Spire St Anthony’s Hospital, where she was a hand therapist working with patient referrals from trauma and orthopaedics, plastic surgery, rheumatology, and neurology, across a range of acute and chronic conditions. 

Liz joins the GripAble as a lead therapist in the clinical team that is headed up by GripAble clinical director Nicola Goldsmith. Liz will support occupational therapists and physios to apply and incorporate the GripAble platform into their patient treatment and rehab regimes.

“I want to be part of the future of occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and my new role at GripAble offers me the ideal opportunity to do just that, by guiding and supporting fellow therapists on using GripAble’s smart platform to help patients reach their rehab goals,” Liz says.

“Through my clinical experience, I have gained a clear understanding of how debilitating loss of hand function can be for patients, and the impact it can have on physical and emotional wellbeing. GripAble’s digital technology and service is therapist-led and takes into account the challenges both patients and therapists face when building motivation and engagement into a rehab regime.

“By supporting and guiding therapists on how to maximise the potential of the GripAble platform, I aim to help them achieve greater efficiency in their workflow as well as improved outcomes for their patients.”

GripAble is an award-winning technology company developing an end-to-end digital platform for assessment and gamified rehabilitation for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

The company has been developing its solution over the last eight years in consultation with thousands of occupational and physical therapists and patients across multiple clinical conditions and leading academic institutions, including Imperial College London.

GripAble launched its mobile app along with its first hand-held sensor in 2020, focusing on supporting those undergoing upper limb rehabilitation. 

GripAble clinical director Nicola Goldsmith adds: “I am thrilled to welcome Liz to GripAble and the clinical team. Her in-depth, on-the-ground experience, clinical expertise, and passion for driving the medtech revolution within occupational therapy and physiotherapy make her the perfect fit for the role.

“We are continuing to grow our multidisciplinary team of experts at GripAble to help us reach more healthcare professionals and support them in implementing evidence-based practices and delivering efficient and effective therapy programmes for people with upper limb disorders.”

GripAble is currently recruiting for a neuro-rehab occupational therapist or neuro-rehab physio. To find out more, click here. 

For more information: www.gripable.co.  

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MND

Breakthrough in understanding MND

The Trinity College Dublin research has been hailed as being “extremely valuable” with “enormous” implications

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An “extremely valuable” breakthrough has been made in understanding motor neurone disease (MND).

A research team from Trinity College Dublin has found that MND has four distinct patterns of changes in electrical signals that can be identified using EEG (electroencephalography).

The breakthrough has been hailed as being of huge value in identifying patients for clinical trials and will assist in finding new treatments for the neurodegenerative disease.

While trials of new drugs are being undertaken, MND is known to be very heterogeneous with different patterns of disability and life expectancy. 

Predicting in advance the pattern of disability and life expectancy is one of the major challenges in designing modern clinical trials, said the team. 

The electrical signal analysis research developed within Trinity College has discovered different patterns of brain network disruption reflect the underlying disease process. 

The Trinity researchers have now shown that these patterns of brain network disruptions in MND cluster into four distinct subtypes that are predictive of how the disease progresses. 

The team’s findings move the Trinity researchers one step closer to building better and more effective treatments for different sub-categories of the disease.

The work was performed by Stefan Dukic, a PhD student within the academic unit of neurology at Trinity, under the supervision of Dr Bahman Nasseroleslami, Fr Tony Coote assistant professor in neuroelectric signal analysis.Dr Nasseroleslami said: “Understanding how brain networking is disrupted in MND has been the focus of our research for the past ten years. 

“This work show that we are on the right track, and that the technologies we have developed to capture electrical activity in the brain can identify important differences between different patient groups.”

Professor Orla Hardiman, professor of neurology and regarded as a world leader in MND research, said: “This is a very important and exciting body of work. 

“A major barrier to providing the right drug for the right patient in MND is the heterogeneity of the disease. 

“This breakthrough research has shown that it is possible to use patterns of brain network dysfunction to identify subgroups of patients that cannot be distinguished by clinical examination.

“The implications of this work are enormous, as we will have new and reliable ways segregate patients based on what is really happening within the nervous system in MND.”

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Tech

Fourier Intelligence continues global expansion

The unicorn relocates its HQ to the Silicon Valley of the East, while also opening new divisions in Europe and Australia

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Rehabilitation robotics leader Fourier Intelligence is further increasing its prominence on a global scale through its expansion into Europe and Australia, while also relocating its headquarters into the hugely sought-after ‘Silicon Valley of the East’. 

The unicorn is establishing new Fourier divisions in Zurich in Switzerland and Melbourne in Australia and is the latest step in the company’s ongoing and significant expansion. 

This will add to its existing businesses in Singapore and Malaysia, with its invitation to become part of the globally-esteemed Zhangjiang Science City giving it premium headquarters in Shanghai with the potential to expand its current workforce of almost 400 people, having grown from less than 30 three years ago. 

Indeed, by 2025, Zhangjiang Science City has earmarked Fourier as the flagship tenant of the next phase of development of its AI Robotic Valley – which would see its robotics industry worth $10.8 billion – and would see huge expansion by Fourier; a feat the business is confident it can accomplish. 

A pioneer in the global rehab tech market, Fourier already has presence in 54 countries around the world, with more than 10 million usage hours for its portfolio of over 20 AI-powered rehabilitation robots. 100 more products are currently in development.

Recently, the business – established only six years ago – became the first rehab tech company in the world to secure financial backing from a major player in the international investment market when it gained C+ funding from Saudi Aramco, a coup described as being of “humongous” significance to Fourier and its ambitious plans. 

And already delivering on its ambitions, Fourier believes its new headquarters – which it moved into in July after being asked by local government to stay following an exhibition of its products in China – help to send out their statement of intent globally. 

“This is known as the Silicon Valley of the East. I am an engineer and look up to the work of Silicon Valley and the jobs, innovation and companies that have come from there, we want to help emulate that here,” says Zen Koh, co-founder of Fourier Intelligence.

“We are a young company but we hope to encourage other companies like us to be a success and to help drive forward advancements in technology for China. We are proud of how we always rise to the challenges and it’s about time we show China and the world what we’ve got. 

“Zhangjiang Science City and its plans for Robotic Valley are very important. Shanghai is one of the most advanced cities in China but they are acutely aware they need to be more than the factory of the world. People want better jobs and a better life. By building an environment which attracts ambitious startups, budding entrepreneurs and established businesses, they are creating an environment for growth and ambition. 

“Moving here is huge for us, and I hope this will be the chance for Fourier to truly change the world of rehabilitation – but at the very least, I hope people learn from our experience. There are some very positive and encouraging signals from the rehab community across the world.”

Fourier’s further expansion into Zurich and Melbourne – supported by some of the leading scientists and R&D leaders to help advance its research and product development even further – adds to its ten subsidiaries and joint research laboratories around the world, with the potential for further businesses in Chicago, Madrid and London set to be explored in the future. 

Its Swiss business is hoped to be established by the end of this year, with its Australian division set for mid-2022. Fourier’s rapidly growing global presence places it in a hugely influential position, but one in which they are keen to work collaboratively. 

“In becoming a truly global business which makes a positive impact on patients’ lives, we are very, very open to working with the entire global rehab community. We welcome the world to work with us and collaborate with us,” says Zen. 

“We want to compete and collaborate with the best companies out there and in a positive way that can benefit the whole community. We believe that through collaborating and networking with other companies, sharing ideas and positively engaging, we can all get to the next level.”

But as well as growing Fourier’s presence and its capability to create life-changing robotics for patients, Zen is also committed to supporting the next generation of talent. 

“We want to encourage young people and talented engineers to join our industry. That is why Silicon Valley is successful, they attract people to come and be part of changing the world and the way we live,” says Zen, who has worked in the advancement of rehab robotics for over 20 years. 

“Our ambition when we started was to be a global company and we truly believe that using technology will make human lives better – in continuing to do that, we need to work with the best talent in the world to help us develop something that is truly global. 

“This is a fun industry and a cool career, but also the chance to make a positive impact on humankind.” 

One partnership through which Fourier is truly having a positive impact is with Yongchi Rehabilitation Hospital in China, one of the most advanced rehab centres in the country, which has the biggest Fourier RehabHub™ solution with over 30 devices available for use by its patients. With the help of Fourier’s technology, Yongchi has progressed from traditional rehabilitation to intelligent robotic therapy. 

The RehabHub™ concept was launched by Fourier in 2020, and is now widely used in neurorehabilitation, elderly care and community-based rehabilitation settings. The comprehensive rehabilitation solution is equipped with highly efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective robots that deliver functional training, assisting clinicians in providing treatments and enabling effective and consistent rehab to patients.

Zen believes the RehabHub™ model, against a backdrop of its proven success in Yongchi, can be replicated around the world, to help bring its technology to more people who need it. 

“Robotics are helping humans to do rehab better, but for many it is something they can’t afford. But through the creation of this state-of-the-art RehabHub™, this is enabling robotics for all, not just the rich people,” says Zen, who is also an ambassador of the International Industry Society in Advanced Rehabilitation Technology (IISART). 

“We had a launch and patients were so excited they flocked to the clinic, it was a phenomenal success. This could be a very successful model which could be replicated and shared with the world. 

“Of course people are sceptical about what they outcome will be when they have invested so much money, but when the financial model is right, it can work very well. Yongchi is not in one of the bigger cities in China, but they have adopted this model where they don’t charge high fees and have made it accessible. 

“We are working to fine tune the clinical and financial model so that robotics can make a difference to people’s lives without burning a hole in their pocket, and we hope this will be used around the world.” 

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