OUR RESEARCH SUCCESSES
The MedTech CoRE and CMDT have been established to serve as a world leading research platform in medical device technologies for New Zealand, focused on generating healthcare solutions for New Zealanders and economic outcomes for our partners. This section provides an overview of some of the research themes on which the MedTech CoRE and CMDT will focus.
Overcoming adversity on the road to success
Some of the best ideas come from conversations and 3am in the morning. That’s how Tony Tse came up with the idea of using an Augmented Reality headset to project subtitles at the movies. Tony, who is hearing impaired, was finding it frustrating that cinemas in New Zealand rarely use the subtitle data that comes with most movies, which limits what he can watch.
Tony, who has recently defended his PhD at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute – together with ABI research fellow Marco Schneider – launched a spin-out company to commercialise their AR subtitles idea. They named the company Vivify.
“I always find the initial problem-solving stage the most interesting in any problems,” says Tony, whose PhD focused on investigating an underwater hearing aid for divers inspired by the mechanism of fish hearing.
“What are the theory and engineering tools that can be used for a given problem? And of course, once the relevant knowledge has been identified, the process of applying them and arriving at a solution is very rewarding.”
“I have been hearing impaired since I was a child and have always worn hearing aids. To me, they are a technological marvel. It would not be possible for me to be where I am now had I not been able to hear in class or make friends with people around me. That got me interested in bio-engineering, in particular hearing related research.”
The AR subtitle idea won them the $1,000 Velocity Challenge at the University of Auckland, which Tony and Marco used to develop the first prototype headset. The MedTech CoRE has supported Tony and Marco from the beginning – both took part in a Commercialisation module of the Doctoral Training Programme in 2017, which encouraged them to launch Vivify later that same year. They also obtained a pre-seed investment from Uniservices. After many revisions, they have recently finished successfully trialing the latest version at Auckland’s Event Cinemas, to very good reception.
“Participants love the idea of what we doing and Event has been very receptive and helpful. We are improving on the service now with initial feedback and jumping through some business hurdles. We are hoping to release it for general use soon!”
The current version is connected to an iPhone that sits inside the headset, which makes them a bit bulky and heavy. Tony says their plan is to eventually build headsets from scratch, make them more aesthetically pleasing and lighter.
Tony has also been nominated for the Young New Zealander of the Year Award, and the finalists will be announced soon – so keep an eye out!
Breakthrough devices for bowel cancer
Surgical Design Studios is a medical device developer which designs products that significantly improve the outcomes for patients with bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Founded two years ago at the University of Auckland’s Medical School Department of Surgery, with the assistance of the MedTech CORE and UniServices, the company is now worth more than $10 million.
Their devices dramatically reduce the time until patients can fully use their guts again following bowel surgery – from five months to two weeks. This results in significant health benefits and reductions in clinical complications such as dehydration and infection.
“We have seen very exciting results in the recent trials conducted at Auckland City Hospital, with these products able to deliver improvements that are not achievable with current standard of care,” says Co-founder and Colorectal Surgeon Greg O’Grady, who is the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.
In June 2019, the company had been granted Breakthrough Device designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This appears to be the first time a New Zealand medical device company has been granted entry into the FDA’s Breakthrough Devices regulatory pathway, which is designed to help patients gain more timely access to medical devices that provide a more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions.
Garth Sutherland, CEO of Surgical Design Studio said “this designation validates the importance of the work SDS is doing for patients with intestinal diseases such as bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, and provides us with an opportunity to significantly reduce our time to market for the US.”
Battling dementia with Te Ōranga Ō Te Roro
The number of New Zealanders with dementia is growing steadily each year, with increased risk factors for Māori and Pasifika. Recent research with Māori has identified a need for more accessible, culturally relevant information to assist people living with dementia and their whānau. It is also vital that information about how to prevent or delay the onset of dementia is made accessible to the public.
Te Ōranga Ō Te Roro is an app designed to support whanau affected by dementia. Once complete, the app will be able to assess an individual’s risk for dementia, provide education about modifying risk-factors and living with dementia, offer cognitively-challenging games, link up with health professionals, and provide anonymous data for research.
Funded by MedTech Core, the team created to build the app includes psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, engineers, designers and human-computer specialists. They are led by Brain Research NZ PI Dr Margaret Dudley from the University of Auckland and MedTech CoRE AI Marcus King from Callaghan Innovation.
They incorporate mātauranga Māori methodologies throughout their work, interacting with kaumātua, via wānanga, to understand the needs of the people who will use the tool.
A segment of Te Ōranga Ō Te Roro was wireframed by Māori computer science student, Hollie Howard from Auckland University of Technology, to enable further engagement with kaumātua and mokopuna to solicit feedback on its acceptability. Mokopuna were included because of strong directives from kaumātua, who often rely on their youth to assist them with technology. As a result, the acceptability of the Te Ōranga Ō Te Roro concept has been validated in a Māori population.
Relearning yourself after a traumatic brain injury
Christchurch-based CerebralFix is creating Virtual Reality (VR) apps to help people recover from neurologic damage
“We saw what AbleX was doing for stroke rehabilitation and how their approach was engaging people to work at regaining their health. We realised that what we do with passion – entertainment – could be translated into helping people,” says General Manager Nadia Thorne.
AbleX worked with Marcus King from the Callaghan Innovation, and now CerebralFix has formed a relationship with him to advance their VR game for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This project arose from a clinical need identified through the Laura Fergusson Trust. CerebralFix supported development of this novel VR application for rehabilitation after TBI in collaboration with Marcus King from Callaghan Innovation, Dr Jo Nunnerly from the University of Otago/BAIL and Dr Kristin Gozdzikowska from the Laura Fergusson Trust.
“Marcus called us about cognitive fatigue, or brain tiredness, something that affects around 73 percent of people with TBI, even years after their injury. They have to relearn the basics, and the thinking processes, and seeing and hearing in a busy situation can be enough to exhaust them.”
Nadia says they’re trying to help people understand how VR can help them regain awareness of these difficult situations and the confidence to complete everyday tasks in the home and community. “For example, they can use it to trial a café visit and all the skills needed to enjoy this activity. VR tricks the brain into thinking the person is really in the particular environment, delivering reactions that are very close to real life. With the support of a clinician, the individual can talk through the experience and know that it is safe to fail.”
She sees VR as complimenting and extending traditional recovery programmes, rather than taking over from them. CerebralFix is working with the VR TBI research team on a clinical feasibility study. If that goes well, then they will progress to a clinical trial.
“The beauty of the MedTech CoRE is the collaboration, something you don’t get when you’re developing games because of the competitive nature of the market,” says Nadia.ers and industry partners.