MaRS EXCITE participants MyndTec and BresoDx featured in Toronto Star as Rehab Revolutionaries
The article was originally posted here on the Toronto Star website.
For patients with disabling injuries, Toronto Rehab’s iDAPT Centre exists somewhere between University Ave. and a near-magical realm.
It’s a cathedral for cutting-edge inventiveness whose clergy, made up of industrial designers and biomedical engineers, have earned a reputation for shaking the foundations of rehabilitation science.
On Monday, Toronto Rehab Foundation launches its latest fundraising campaign, which it hopes will bring in $100 million for advancing research programs and unlocking new rehabilitation tools.
Given today’s aging population, it’s an appeal that stroke survivor Howard Rocket believes is critical.
The clock had read roughly 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 27, 1995 when Rocket’s headache turned catastrophic. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he’d just experienced a massive stroke.
“It got really intense and you just know when something bad is happening so I started to go up stairs, got to my room, collapsed on my knees and called 911,” he said.
The blood clot lodged deep in Rocket’s brain left his left side paralysed. His arm simply shut off, sentenced to hang in a seemingly lifeless state. At its end, Rocket’s hand, its five fingers clenched closed, was locked in the shape of fist.
“Can you imagine a fly landing on your nose and not being able to do anything?” he said.
But now after 20 years of imprisoning paralysis, he’s been given parole.
Rocket has gradually restored hand and arm function through MyndMove, a device developed from scratch and tested at the Toronto Rehab iDAPT Centre’s rehabilitation engineering lab.
“I no longer have to wear mittens,” he said, steering the tips of his relaxed fingers into a black, fingered glove. “I drive a three-wheeled electric bike, though not very fast, but can show people I’m turning left behind me my holding out my arm.
“All this, from an arm that was 100 per cent totally dead,” added Rocket. In gratitude, Rocket’s daughter Dana led a fundraising event this spring that raised over $131,000 for what is now the Rocket Family Upper Extremity Clinic.
According to MyndMove’s inventor, biomedical engineer Milos Popovic, the therapy works in tandem with the brain’s ability to relearn movements associated with daily living, like holding a pen or cup.
Stroke and spinal cord injury patients typically attend treatments that last one hour. A patient is usually able to attain “substantial improvement” in regaining upper extremity movement after 20 to 40 hours.
The creation is one of many birthed at the centre, a state-of-the-art, modern foundry is composed of several laboratories where scientists study the “biomechanics” of everyday life. It’s a proving ground for assistive technologies that will enable people to live longer and more safely in their homes.
For some, it will offer the chance to have a telephone conversation without relying on a caregiver to hold the phone. For others, it will be using the washroom without an aid.
In Rocket’s case, both Toronto Rehab and MyndMove have allowed him to return to a normalcy he believed had vanished such long time ago.
“I’m back to paying my taxes, picking up my granddaughter, and eating dinner with my wife,” he said. “It has built my self-esteem and given me back my life.
“It may not be exactly how it once was but who cares? This is so important for a stroke patient.
“This is hope.”
How MyndMove retrains the brain
MyndMove therapy relies on a patient with paralysis attempts to move their arms and hands. At the exact same time, the delivery of gentle, electrical currents is applied to the paralyzed muscles the person is attempting to move.
The resulting contractions mimic the way the brain would produce movements such as reaching, grasping and pinching if it were not injured. The medical device’s software stimulates 30 different reaching and grasping movements, allowing a therapist to create a personalized therapy plan — and eventually, thanks in part to the brain’s ability to remap neural pathways, the link between brain and muscle is redrawn.
Activities such as picking up an object or reaching sideways can be practiced independently or combined, training the brain each time.
MyndMove was the brainchild of Milos Popovic, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s chair of spinal cord injury research. The rehabilitative tool and its life changing therapy recently earned Popovic the title of University Health Network Inventor of the year.
“We had a patient who joined us a couple of months ago with both of her arms not working at all,” he told the Star. “After 40 hours, she was picking green peas off of the plate with her fingers and putting them in her mouth.
“Ten or 15 years ago, we would have been at a loss to say if this was even possible.”
This diagnostic device can help doctors determine whether or not an individual is suffering from sleep apnea, a common but potentially serious disorder where breathing fluctuates during sleep.
Throughout the night, BresoDx logs various measurements, including head position, sleep time, breath sounds and airflow near the mouth and nose.
Toronto Rehab Institute’s director of research, Geoff Fernie, said the cordless device is a “game changer” for several reasons, particularly its thin and light plastic frame. Its minimalist design means a patient can comfortably undergo the test in their home rather than at a sleep lab overnight.
The data is recorded onto a SD card, which is then shipped off to a diagnostic lab for analysis.