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Hitting the road to a better quality of life

Advances in technology are helping to open up the world like never before for people who rely on mobility assistance, as NR Times discovers.

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The use of Bluetooth, LED lights and phone charging points are no longer the sole domain of the executive car – these are the types of technology being installed into state-of-the-art mobility aids, to help people who rely on them to explore  the world.

Major breakthroughs in accessibility in recent years have seen power wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs, power assists and seating and positioning products developed to help empower users, giving them  freedom to travel and discover new places and experiences.

In addition to mobility and wellbeing, lifestyle is now a key feature in the development of new products going  to the market, with modern technology helping to redefine the traditional view  of wheelchairs.

One leading manufacturer in this field is Permobil, a company which has been at the forefront of redefining the sector, with the introduction of its Active Height and Active Reach innovations to help the user achieve new goals.

“We are constantly striving to find ways to contribute to our user’s quality of life.

“As well as our power wheelchair products, we want to communicate the possibilities that the combination of manual wheelchairs with power assist devices offer to users, extending their mobility, increasing function and opening up possibilities for excursions and travel,” says Gordon Cunningham, who leads Permobil’s  UK operation.

Permobil, which began life in Sweden over 50 years ago and has grown into a global leader in its field, is certainly using technology to maximum effect.

The clinical need for good seating and positioning, alongside the necessity to create maximum comfort, has seen the development of practical functions like its Active Height – a seat elevator to allow users to achieve better vantage points – and Active Reach, which tilts the seat forward and raises it, helping to extend reach.

Both have been hailed as breakthroughs  in independence.

The F5 Corpus VS offers the possibility to stand and even to drive at slow speed while standing, and its SmartDrive power assist for manual wheelchairs enables users to go up hills and ramps through actions controlled by a Bluetooth wristband.

The discreet unit is compact and lightweight and clips onto the back of the wheelchair. Whenever energy levels are low or a challenging obstacle is reached, users simply tap their device and the SmartDrive takes over.

It has a range of around 20km and weighs just under 6 kgs. Another useful addition is the company’s Connect Me system – currently on trial in some EU countries and coming to the UK soon. The wheelchair is equipped with a GPS device with a SIM card module connected to an app.

It enables users to contact a service hub for possible faults to be diagnosed remotely. Good seating and positioning is an important aspect of the Permobil philosophy, not only from a clinical point of view, but also to provide maximum  comfort by being highly adjustable to individual needs.

As the body moves and changes over the course of a day, month or year, the cushion adapts to ensure a user is always  optimally seated.

A nice feature from a travel perspective is that you can transfer your ROHO cushion to an airplane, train or bus seat, helping you to maintain your comfort and leaving you to enjoy the journey.

“It’s vital that our products are adaptable for the user – not the other way around. User centric design that focuses on first and foremost functionality, comfort, quality of life. If you are comfortable and mobile, then you can get a lot more done during the day,” says Cunningham.

Add to that the likes of the LED lights, puncture free tyres, on-chair phone charging ports and holders for phones and tablets, which are increasingly becoming standard features, and the appeal of manual and power assisted wheelchairs has never been greater.

For more information on Permobil products, visit www.permobil.com or contact info@permobil.co.uk.

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News

Non-invasive technique ‘could replace need for brain surgery’

The new PING approach could help treat some of the most challenging and complex neurological diseases

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A new non-invasive technique has been developed to remove faulty brain circuits that could allow medics to treat debilitating neurological diseases without the need for conventional brain surgery.

If successfully translated into operating theatres, the breakthrough has been hailed as potentially revolutionary in the treatment of some of the most challenging and complex neurological diseases, including epilepsy, movement disorders and others. 

The PING approach, developed by the University of Virginia and Stanford University, uses low intensity focused ultrasound waves combined with micro-bubbles to briefly penetrate the brain’s natural defences and allow the targeted delivery of a neurotoxin. 

This neurotoxin kills the culprit brain cells while sparing other healthy cells and preserving the surrounding brain architecture.

“This novel surgical strategy has the potential to supplant existing neurosurgical procedures used for the treatment of neurological disorders that don’t respond to medication,” said researcher Dr Kevin S. Lee, of UVA’s departments of neuroscience and neurosurgery and the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). 

“This unique approach eliminates the diseased brain cells, spares adjacent healthy cells and achieves these outcomes without even having to cut into the scalp.”

PING has already demonstrated exciting potential in laboratory studies. For instance, one of the promising applications for PING could be for the surgical treatment of epilepsies that do not respond to medication. 

Around a third of patients with epilepsy do not respond to anti-seizure drugs, and surgery can reduce or eliminate seizures for some of them. 

Dr Lee and his team, along with their collaborators at Stanford, have shown that PING can reduce or eliminate seizures in two research models of epilepsy. 

Dr Kevin S. Lee

The findings raise the possibility of treating epilepsy in a carefully-targeted and non-invasive manner without the need for traditional brain surgery.

Another important potential advantage of PING is that it could encourage the surgical treatment of appropriate patients with epilepsy who are reluctant to undergo conventional invasive or ablative surgery.

A key advantage of the approach is its incredible precision. PING harnesses the power of magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) to let scientists peer inside the skull so that they can precisely guide sound waves to open the body’s natural blood-brain barrier exactly where needed. 

“If this strategy translates to the clinic,” the researchers write in their new paper, “the noninvasive nature and specificity of the procedure could positively influence both physician referrals for and patient confidence in surgery for medically intractable neurological disorders.”

“Our hope is that the PING strategy will become a key element in the next generation of very precise, noninvasive, neurosurgical approaches to treat major neurological disorders,” said Dr Lee, who is part of the UVA Brain Institute.

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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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