A Sudbury company is moving ahead with an important system to help patients – globally – in recovery from brain injury.
Who would benefit from this device? “Individuals who have a lost or impaired function of the hand as a result of stroke, traumatic brain injury, industrial/leisure accidents, war veterans etc.,” says Vineet B.K. Johnson, founder of IRegained.
A statement from IRegained best outlines specifically the area it is tackling: “Over 70% of stroke survivors suffer from some degree of paralysis in their hands. They, unfortunately, are forced to live with this disability… more than 100 million people worldwide are in dire need of an effective, affordable, and accessible hand function rehabilitation solution.”
Each year some 795,000 Americans - and 15 million worldwide – suffer a stroke, states data from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stroke, or a cerebrovascular accident, means the blood supply to part of your brain is reduced or halted. This deprives brain tissue of necessary oxygen and nutrients; brain cells begin to die within minutes. The prompt treatment can minimize brain damage and potential complications. But, what can be done post-stroke?
“We can’t undo a stroke, however, we are building The MyHandTM System that can help patients worldwide recover from hand function disability and live independently once again,” states the corporate website. Repossession can mean the ability to perform "basic activities of daily living like - eating, grooming, toileting etc. independently.”
Johnson leads IRegained Inc., a medical technology company. He has conducted decades of research in physiotherapy, neurophysiology, and neuroplasticity and believes we have arrived at a stage where brain function recovery can be aided by current advanced engineering, algorithms, and cutting-edge technology. MyHandTM is a passive training device that leverages and enhances neuroplasticity, a human brain’s ability to reprogram its neural pathways.
Johnson, president and CEO of IRegained, was what prompted him to do this work. “I have always been fascinated by how the brain controls the various activities we perform with our body, and most importantly the hand. This has been my passion since my first year of undergraduate studies in physiotherapy.
"Since then, I have worked with several world-renowned neuroscientists to understand the foundation principles or muscle’s function, neural function, and motor control. In addition, my curiosity extended to understanding what happens when someone sustains a damage to the brain as a result of stroke or brain injury, and what mechanisms are involved in restoring function after such a damage.
"I have also been motivated to apply this knowledge base in real world rehabilitation and stroke is the world’s # 1 cause for adult disability… this is our motto – ‘Standing united in the dream to help stroke survivors reclaim their life’.”
Using two simple tablet-based graphical interfaces, one for the clinician and the other for the patient, regular use of this system helps restore voluntary hand function.
Dr. Michael Franklyn, a family physician in Sudbury, suffered a stroke in October 2018. “I had a rare type of stroke that began as a blood clot and resulted in an artery rupturing on the right side of my brain, destroying substantial brain tissue in the area that controls the motor movement and sensation on the left side of my body. Mortality rates with the types of complications are very high and I underwent emergency decompressive surgery, which undoubtedly saved my life.”
Franklyn was in a coma in the ICU for the first 17 days and hospitalized for 155 days. “I left the hospital in March 2019 in a wheelchair and immediately embarked upon intensive research about post-stroke rehab with the intention of regaining maximal function of my left side. I had no use of my left hand/arm or leg.
"Within a month I began to walk with a four-point cane and have consistently progressed to the point where I can now walk around the house without the aid of a cane. This has been an incredible liberation as I now have a free hand to carry things.”
In the fall of 2019, Dr. Franklyn began collaborating with Johnson. “I had already become familiar with Vineet's work and extensively researched neuroplasticity as a rehab option. I began working with Vineet and his preliminary prototype device at my home. Fairly quickly, I noticed some improvement in terms of being able to discriminate and control individual fingers and with respect to range of motion in my fingers and wrist.”
David Leblanc started using the IRegained technology about 2 1/2 years ago. “If I had been able to use MyHandTM at an earlier stage, I think I would have seen even much larger improvement. Progress was almost immediate and continued. The games they are developing encourages you to engage more. I was using the system quite regularly, but of course with COVID usage had to subside.”
Would Leblanc endorse the system? “Oh my gosh. I would recommend this to anyone who has hand difficulty.”
Johnson and his team encourage users like Leblanc and Franklyn to provide feedback to further future iterations and improvements. “Every aspect of the hardware and software design directly cater to patient needs and comfort.
"The IRegainedTM MyHandTM System is easy to use. The user interface is designed in a way that allows patients to use the system with little to no in-person supervision, knowing very well the limitations observed in persons with stroke. The results are clinically effective, and persons with stroke of all abilities will be able to use the system. These observations are based on early clinical results, anecdotal evidence from patient volunteers and interviews from clinicians.”
As confirmed by Johnson and company COO Samir Sahoo, the technology is being developed in Sudbury.
“We have hired amazing local talent through our collaborations with the local universities and colleges. In addition, we have industrial collaborations with Ionic Mechatronics and Synaptic Technologies to bring this technology to the market.
"Despite the impact from COVID, we have grown from a team of four to a team of 12 people, which includes biomedical engineers, mechanical engineers, electronic and instrumentation specialists, software developers, gamification, UI/UX professionals, industrial design, kinesiologists and researchers.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Hugh Kruzel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star