Digital healthcare: From hamstring injuries to pelvic floor disorders
InjurySense and Amara Therapeutics have both been assisted by Enterprise Ireland
Pelvic health is a neglected and often overlooked category of medicine.
A wearable device to aid recovery from hamstring injury and a digital platform for the treatment of pelvic floor disorders are two of the highly innovative digital health innovations being supported by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund. The fund assists the creation of technology-based start-up companies and the transfer of innovations developed in higher education institutes and other research-performing organisations.
Enterprise Ireland commercialisation specialist Thomas Melia describes himself as a spinout agent. “I go into third-level institutions looking for projects that might have a business potential and help bring them to the point where they become commercial propositions,” he explains.
Success is by no means certain. “It’s quite a high-risk activity,” Melia points out. “If something is market-ready, private money would come in and Enterprise Ireland support wouldn’t be necessary. Our role is in the cases where a there is a product concept, but the market is not ready to support it. There has to be an element of risk to it.”
One of the spinouts currently receiving commercialisation fund support is Amara Therapeutics. The company is developing a digital therapeutic platform for the treatment of a variety of pelvic floor disorders. Digital therapeutics, or DTx, are evidence-based therapeutic interventions which prevent, manage or treat a medical disorder. These software-based interventions have the power to disrupt the delivery of healthcare, improving access and outcomes while reducing costs.
Quality of life
Pelvic health is a neglected and often overlooked category of medicine, according to Amara Therapeutics head of product and practising physiotherapist Sylvia Farrell. “These conditions, which include urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, have a devastating impact on quality of life and, like many stigmatised conditions, are associated with feelings of isolation, shame and fear. They are also associated with a large cost burden to the global healthcare system. Much of this cost burden is due to lack of prevention strategies, inefficiency in patient pathways and reliance on one-to-one in-person care.”
The Amara solution uses a smartphone application with integrated data analysis algorithms to guide patients through individualised programmes with the aim of improving access, affordability and efficacy versus the current standard of care.
“In physiotherapy private practice at a stretch I can see two patients an hour,” says Farrell. “The potential reach and scalability of DTx solutions is critically important here, especially in terms of providing care to disadvantaged areas of society where easy access to healthcare is not a given. It is expected that the demand for treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction will increase by at least 45 per cent over the next 30 years. Novel solutions and alternative care pathways are desperately needed to cope with the increasing prevalence of these conditions.”
Amara is shortly to begin a fundraising round to help the company achieve its goal of getting the product to market by 2023.
InjurySense, a Trinity College Dublin spinout, is developing a wearable medical device for elite sports teams to monitor hamstring muscle injury incidence and recurrence.
“The device allows athletes and coaches to track and monitor hamstring function during running,” explains Adam Geraghty who developed the solution in collaboration with Dr Neil Fleming of Trinity’s Human Performance Lab. “Machine-learning algorithms generate real-time data insights allowing teams to objectively monitor lower limb muscle activation patterns in key phases of the gait cycle during high-speed running and relate this to risk of muscle injury. InjurySense can be used during rehabilitation sessions as athletes return to play, and there are many clinical applications outside of sport for the technology.”
Hamstring injuries account for 33 per cent of all muscle injuries and there is a 33 per cent chance of recurrence by the end of a season. There is also a 12 per cent chance of reinjury within first week of return to full training and play. “These recurrences are predictable in terms of where they occur in the gait cycle and we can monitor changes in muscle function during these key phases,” says Geraghty. “Our aim is to have a product on the market within the next two or three years with full medical device regulatory approval.”
These are just two of the approximately 150 projects supported by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund at the moment. “We fund about 40-50 projects each year,” says Melia. “Anyone in a third-level institution with a project which they believe has commercial potential should get in touch with Enterprise Ireland or the Technology Transfer Office in their college.”