The road to recovery from a stroke or other brain injuries can be long and arduous, with significant ongoing impacts upon a patient’s quality of life.
Now, a breakthrough device created by Adelaide-based med-tech start-up RehabSwift, with support from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service, has demonstrated in clinical trials an ability to accelerate recovery of hand and arm movement, one of the most debilitating aspects for many stroke survivors.
RehabSwift is led by founder and CEO Dr Sam Darvishi, and evolved from his study for a PhD in Neural Engineering at the University of Adelaide (2016), plus a previous qualification as a Master of Engineering in Automation and Manufacturing at the University of Sydney.
Combining these areas of expertise with his own personal journey, in which he suffered a severe stutter in his youth, fuelled his passion to help others afflicted by disability.
With up to 15 million people around the world suffering a stroke each year, Dr Darvishi set out to utilise his skills to make a real difference to the lives of recovering stroke patients.
A game to retrain the brain
Dr Darvishi’s solution comprises an externally worn cap studded with sensors to pick up signals emitted by the brain (also known as Electroencephalography (EEG)) while the stroke survivor intends to move their fingers. A machine learning software then translates the EEG signals reflecting the abstract intention to move, into the physical motion of the fingers via two bionic hands.
The underlying principle is to activate the brain simultaneously with the hand and arm muscles to promote neuroplasticity and rewire the damaged neural networks. Impressively, rather than a one-size fits all solution, the machine-learning algorithm tailors the program to each patient’s timing pattern for re-learning hand movement.
In an unexpected bonus, some patients noted that their sense of touch improved, “brain fog” was reduced and comprehension enhanced. The achievement of these extra benefits is profoundly important medically, but also for the quality of life of recovering individuals.
Critical helping hand provided by i4 Connect
As with any true medical innovation, the cost of bringing a product to market via clinical trials and regulatory approvals can be prohibitive. Dr Darvishi turned to the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service, administered by i4 Connect.
With its track record of selective investment in novel, early-stage start-ups, Dr Darvishi saw an opportunity to gain access not just to a source of funding – RehabSwift received a matched, non-dilutionary grant of $158,590 – but also essential business support from i4 Connect facilitator, Josh Garratt, a start-up commercialisation professional with a passion for technology and automation.
“Our i4 Connect Facilitator has been an integral part of our journey,” Dr Darvishi says. “His support, guidance and encouragement was integral to the different phases of our development.
“He provided guidance on capital raising, mentored us in building a sustainable business model, connected us to a valuable network and stood by our side to ensure progress.”
An innovation that demanded support
Josh says RehabSwift is the type of start-up that the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service was created to identify and support. “Dr Darvishi is dedicated to the mission of seeing the technology widely used to help stroke survivors regain function,” he says.
“The technology is impressive and is exactly the kind of university research that should receive commercialisation support to improve health outcomes in the real world.
“Fifty per cent of stroke survivors do not respond well to conventional therapy, but RehabSwift’s patented brain-computer interface has proven to result in clinically significant gains in function with patients.”
Realising the global potential
RehabSwift designed its equipment to be compact and easily scalable, enhancing its potential to export around the world. A simple solution that is capable of delivering tangible results and transforming lives, while also generating significant savings in government healthcare spending, is expected to find many ready markets.
Dr Darvishi summarised the impact of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service not just on RehabSwift, but the potential to improve the lives of recovering stroke patients around the world.
“We all know we can have brilliant ideas, prototypes, or products. But if nobody’s going to fund it, then it’s really hard to commercialise it,” he says.
“The Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service is one of the best potential ways of getting into the market. It doubles up whatever you can raise from other investors but, more importantly, it makes your offering more attractive to other investors, which is vital.”