Combining robotics, virtual reality and standardized tests, KINARM system enables researchers to ‘fingerprint’ the subtle effects of disease and injury on the brain
KINGSTON, ON – They were the first in the world to give researchers a bilateral robotic tool for understanding the fundamentals of brain function.
Now, their work bolstered by research results and the creation of a library of standardized tests, a Queen’s University neuroscientist and his spinoff company, BKIN Technologies Ltd., are launching their new, automated version of its KINARM™ system at the world’s largest neuroscience conference this week in California.The new KINARM Assessment Station™ combines a chair with robotic ‘arms’ and a virtual/augmented reality system that enables neuroscience and rehabilitation researchers to guide their seated patient through a series of standardized tasks, such as hitting balls with virtual paddles, or interacting with objects in a virtual world. Once the tests are completed, the system instantly generates a detailed report, pinpointing variations from normal behaviour.
“This system has the potential to do for the diagnosis of brain injury what X-rays did for diagnosing muscular and skeletal injuries,” says John Molloy, President and CEO of Queen’s University’s PARTEQ Innovations, which founded BKIN and helped protect and commercialize the technology.
Two emerging areas of application for KINARM™ are professional sports and the military, where impact-based head injuries are an occupational reality, and where there is a significant lack of effective tools for determining when patients can safely return to regular duties without the risk of a career-ending injury.
Knowing the full effects of a brain injury on the ability to function in daily life means more effective rehabilitation programs for patients. It also means a better understanding of the potential impact of brain injury, whether caused by accidents or by diseases including stroke, MS, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy or fetal alcohol syndrome.
“The beauty of this system is it that it captures subtle deficits caused by a brain injury that are not measured by traditional tests,” says Dr. Stephen Scott, the inventor of the KINARM and a professor at The Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s. “It enables researchers to create a ‘fingerprint’, if you will, of the patient’s unique neurological condition. Traditional testing methods, such as touching a finger to the nose or bouncing a ball, just don’t capture the complexity of brain processes necessary for everyday activities such as preparing dinner or driving a car.”
By giving a clear picture of the patient’s specific deficits, the system enables researchers to develop more effective treatment programs, and to monitor the patient’s recovery. Researchers also have the ability to select patients for research protocols based on their deficit “fingerprint.”
“KINARM is the only objective tool for assessing brain function, and clinical researchers need this tool to develop better therapies for treating brain injury or disease,” says Anne Vivian-Scott, CEO of BKIN Technologies, which is commercializing the KINARM. “The addition of standardized tests with benchmark normal subject data means a clinical researcher has immediate access to more than a decade of neuroscience research, allowing them to start assessing patients right away.”
The Society for Neuroscience Conference, which takes place Nov. 13-17 in San Diego and attracts more than 26,000 attendees, is a perfect opportunity for clinical researchers to view and try out the new assessment system, Ms Vivian-Scott says.
The KINARM has already been extensively ‘test-driven’ as a research tool: currently it is being used by stroke researchers at Foothills Hospital at University of Calgary, and at Johns Hopkins and 20 other institutions worldwide to conduct basic and clinical research.
President & CEO, BKIN Technologies Ltd.
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