SMART Arm investment helps stroke survivors recover faster
UniQuest start-up partners with North Queensland investors to commercialise new medtech device
SMART Arm Pty Ltd, the latest start-up enterprise from leading Australian university commercialisation company UniQuest, has secured investment from Townsville Mackay Medicare Local (TMML) to launch an innovative device for improving recovery outcomes for people who have experienced stroke and/or brain injury.
The Sensory-Motor Active Rehabilitation Training (SMART) Arm is a portable, non-robotic technology that enables stroke survivors with upper limb weakness to drive their own rehabilitation.
With feedback on performance via an interactive computer program and incremental increases in load and reaching range, the SMART Arm reduces the degrees of freedom to be controlled and provides a goal for movement. For stroke survivors with very severe weakness, it can also be used with outcome-triggered electrical stimulation to augment full-range reaching.
UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said SMART Arm Pty Ltd was formed to further develop, manufacture and market the technology, which originated from multi-disciplinary research at two Queensland universities.
“SMART Arm the company is the culmination of more than eight years of stroke rehabilitation research, design and testing at James Cook University (JCU) and The University of Queensland (UQ),” Mr Henderson explained.
“The SMART Arm technology was developed by researchers across a number of disciplines, including physiotherapy, neuroscience and engineering. We now have TMML on board, bringing to the venture its commercial and community health acumen and access to rehabilitation clinic and networks worldwide.
“This partnership demonstrates how collaborations between universities, research disciplines, and industry can translate into real and practical benefits for the wider community,” Mr Henderson said.
While details of the agreement between SMART Arm Pty Ltd shareholders and TMML remain commercial-in-confidence, the transaction is expected to accelerate the device’s manufacture so units could be available for distribution within 12 months.
Led by Dr Ruth Barker, an Adjunct Senior Lecturer from JCU’s School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, the team which developed the SMART Arm included UQ researchers Professor Richard Carson (Human Movement Studies), Associate Professor Sandy Brauer (Physiotherapy), Dr David Lloyd (Human Movement Studies) and Kate Hayward (Physiotherapy PhD student).
The research team has demonstrated that a program of SMART Arm training improved arm function, arm muscle activation and neural plasticity in people with chronic stroke, with the last finding published in the July 2012 issue of Experimental Brain Research.
“We are thrilled to have a Queensland company like TMML back our innovation,” said Dr Barker.
“Stroke is the leading cause of severe long term disability in the Western world. Every year, over three million stroke survivors try to regain use of their upper limbs. SMART Arm is one of the few interventions shown to result in positive changes in neural plasticity in people with chronic stroke, so we’re very keen to see the device become available to as many as possible, as soon as possible,” Dr Barker said.
TMML chairman, Dr Kevin Arlett, said TMML recognised the potential for SMART Arm to address a major unmet need in the allied health care industry.
“We’re proud to be partnering with Dr Barker and her team to launch this technology commercially,” Dr Arlett said.
“The SMART Arm will make a huge difference to stroke survivor outcomes because it’s interactive and it allows patients to practise independently and direct their own rehabilitation. And, because it’s small enough to be used for clinical inpatient and outpatient settings as well as in rehabilitation services, nursing homes and local area health services, more people will benefit.”
Dr Barker recently demonstrated the SMART Arm device at a workshop on driving neural plasticity that was associated with this year’s International Society for Electrophysiology and Kinesiology Congress (ISEK2012).
Image courtesy of Astaria Jayne Photography
Established by The University of Queensland in 1984, UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups, benchmarking in the top tier of technology transfer worldwide. From an intellectual property portfolio of 1,500+ patents it has created over 70 companies, and since 2000 UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than $450 million to take university technologies to market. Annual sales of products using UQ technology and licensed by UniQuest are running at $3 billion. UniQuest now commercialises innovations developed at The University of Queensland and its commercialisation partner institutions: the University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney, James Cook University, University of Tasmania, Mater Medical Research Institute, and Queensland Health. UniQuest also provides access to an expansive and exclusive network of independent academics to tailor a consulting or project R&D solution to meet the diverse needs of industry and government, facilitating some 500 consulting, expert opinion, testing, and contract research services each year. UniQuest is also a leading Australasian provider of international development assistance recognised for excellence in technical leadership, management and research. Working with agencies such as AusAID, NZAID, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, UniQuest has developed and implemented more than 400 projects in 60+ countries throughout the Pacific, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Africa. www.uniquest.com.au
About Townsville-Mackay Medicare Local (TMML)
Formerly the Townsville General Practice Network, the Townsville-Mackay Medicare Local (TMML) was established in 2011 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation comprising community and health professional representation, as well as business and management expertise. Its 100+ staff include GPs, clinical staff, primary health care professionals and program managers; working in health system integration, mental health service delivery within the primary health care sector, Closing the Gap initiatives, after hours general practice services, and quality improvement programs within general practices. TMML also specialises in CPD delivery focused on multidisciplinary service delivery. TMML has responsibility for an area that covers Townsville and surrounds, west to Richmond, north to Cardwell and south past Mackay / Sarina to the central Queensland communities of Dysart and Clermont.