A biodesign approach to stroke rehabilitation

Posted on: 06/02/2020

Dr. Andrew Kerr from the University of Strathclyde explains how technology can support and enhance rehabilitation in stroke survivors



The Neurotechnology Special Interest Group (Neurotech SIG) will be running the third in its series of biodesign workshops on 27th February, in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde. This workshop will focus on the various technologies that can be used in the rehabilitation of stroke patients.


We took a moment to speak with Dr. Andrew Kerr about his work in stroke rehabilitation and the importance of incorporating technology in patient care.


Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be involved in stroke rehabilitation.

“I‚Äôve always had an interest in understanding human movement. Engineering is an attractive discipline because you have the technology, measurement instruments and general understanding, especially in patients who are affected by movement problems such as cerebral palsy and stroke. Having worked as a physiotherapist ‚Äì practise, teaching and research ‚Äì I realised that the volume of therapy required by patients could not be delivered through the existing model of rehabilitation. Recent observational studies conducted in the UK and Australia concluded that stroke patients only get an average of 7 minutes of each therapy per day. This ‚Äòunder dosing‚Äô of therapy is coming through more in scientific papers. At the same time, there are a number of studies both on animals and humans showing we need 1000s of hours of rehabilitation to fully recover walking ability, speech and cognition. I‚Äôve worked with KTN in the past for a KTP project which was highly successful, so was very glad to be a part of this SIG activity.”


What are some of the difficulties faced by stroke patients?

“There are less people having strokes and more people surviving their stroke across the UK and especially in Scotland. While this is great news, the need for rehabilitation is now on the rise. Currently the healthcare system is under resourced and won‚Äôt ever be able to provide the physio, OT and speech therapy required for stroke patients. Patients are heavily reliant on therapists providing face to face sessions, but the reality is that we are only providing around 7 minutes a day with these experts during the important acute phase of rehabilitation. Furthermore, the patient‚Äôs family/carers do not always have the skills to support recovery. There is therefore a huge opportunity to incorporate various rehabilitation technologies and innovations into the patient‚Äôs home and local community. These measures will help to ‚Äúdemocratise rehabilitation‚Äù for stroke patients ‚Äì providing them with the space, skills, opportunity and technology to take control of their own recovery.”


What are some of the technologies/innovations currently being used in stroke rehabilitation?

“There are a variety of current technologies than can be used in conjunction with the hands-on approach of traditional physiotherapy to make rehab multi-sensory. These include virtual reality, gaming, stimulating the motor cortex using electromagnetic fields, incorporating treadmills with harnesses. Many of these technologies are tested in clinical trials but do not translate to clinical practise. There is the hope that in 5 years, therapists will be utilising other technologies and systems to increase the rehabilitation intensity and duration of their patients. The challenge lies in accessibility ‚Äì both financially and physically. A lot of stroke patients aren‚Äôt aware of the technologies available and how they can be accessed and used. For example, there are a variety of speech therapy apps but patients aren‚Äôt always trained on how to best use these for their recovery. It can even be as basic as designing a tablet app to be used with one hand. We are in the early stages of planning a co-creation centre for patients and manufactures to collaborate in. In this centre, patients will be able to test out various rehabilitation technologies in development and feedback directly to the developers.”


What is a biodesign approach to stroke rehabilitation? What can delegates expect at the workshop?

“A biodesign approach is based on developing technology solutions for techniques of stimulation, like activating peripheral muscles at the right time to enable movement. By enabling the individuals to use a range of active movements, patients can recover quicker. This workshop is designed to accelerate industrial participation and gain input from industry, in collaboration with patients, therapists and researchers. By encouraging home-based systems of rehabilitation, patients and carers can be empowered in the process of their own recovery. It‚Äôs pivotal to have the involvement of KTN. The UK is a leader in academia but this has not translated into commercial opportunities. In fact, there are only about two companies in the UK, that I‚Äôm aware of, who are involved in manufacturing rehabilitation equipment. The bulk of UK companies act as distributors for German, US and Chinese manufacturers. More often than not, there is a need for bespoke equipment which can be expensive if made elsewhere. The Neurotech SIG helps develop those connections between growth areas, technology and commercialisation. There is always going to be a need for rehabilitation as the population grows older and it‚Äôs recognising these growth areas and fulfilling the need.”


Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on activities and events by the Neurotechnology SIG.

Join the Neurotechnology LinkedIn group here.

For more information about the Neurotechnology SIG, please contact Charlie Winkworth-Smith.

Share this article


Connect with Innovate UK Business Connect

Join Innovate UK Business Connect's mailing list to receive updates on funding opportunities, events and to access Innovate UK Business Connect's deep expertise. Please check your email to confirm your subscription and select your area(s) of interest.