Ground-breaking Kiwi medical tech at heart of Australian stroke hub

A collaborative project between Callaghan Innovation and Lower Hutt company Im-Able has led to a ground-breaking trial at Royal Melbourne Hospital of specialised technology that can speed up the recovery of stroke victims.

The Australian trial, led by Professor Mary Galea, incorporates Im-Able’s technology into the hospital’s provision of care in a dedicated ‘Hand Hub’ established within the hospital.

The Hand Hub is part of a clinical study that aims to assess the benefits of intensive upper limb rehabilitation immediately following a stroke.

Callaghan Innovation’s medical devices team worked in partnership with Im-Able to develop and commercialise a platform that enables stroke survivors to play games that are designed to retrain their brains and recover the use of their arms and hands at a much faster rate than traditional one-on-one therapy. In earlier trials the system has been shown to benefit stroke patients several years after their injury.

Callaghan Innovation human movement scientist Dr Kimberlee Jordan says positive results from the Melbourne trial would encourage hospitals here and overseas to implement the Im-Able system as a routine part of a stroke patient’s recovery programme.

“Stroke is the leading cause of ongoing adult disability, with most patients failing to recover full independence," she says.

"This is a prime example of how we at Callaghan Innovation can work with business to generate results that have a high value impact in a key sector.

“While we’ve already seen a lot of individual success stories in New Zealand, for hospitals to invest in new technology they want to see evidence that it is the best use of their resources.

"One of the most important things is simply showing that a new technology can be incorporated into the provision of everyday care. Connecting with Professor Galea to run a large-scale study will provide the data that health providers need to decide whether to make this technology available to all stroke patients.”

A standard clinical trial for a rehabilitation technology might involve 20 patients. At Royal Melbourne Hospital several hundred could undertake a 10-week treatment plan at the Hand Hub this year, with some patients already beginning on Im-Able’s equipment within the first 2 or 3 days after a stroke.

Im-Able chief executive Elliott Kernohan says the year-long trial is hugely significant, as it will provide further evidence of how his company’s technology can improve patient recovery rates and reduce the pressure on hospital resources.

“There’s increasing pressure within the hospital system on length of stay, which means that the rehabilitation teams have even less time to spend one-on-one working with patients who need their expertise," Kernohan says.

"And it’s often the arms and hands that get less attention. The Hand Hub study has implemented our system to ask what happens when you employ easy-to-use technologies that let patients use their time in hospital more productively, helping them get further along in their recovery journey, and supporting an earlier return home. Those outcomes will hopefully reduce the longer term costs of care as well.

“By collaborating with Callaghan Innovation’s experts we’ve been able to advance this technology and turn it into a commercially viable solution.

“We know our device works. But what’s important in healthcare – and to us – is to be able to actually improve the delivery of care. That means better and more sustainable patient outcomes while using up fewer hospital resources.

"When we think of this as a solution to that problem, we get incredibly excited about what we can achieve.”


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