When it comes to brain injuries and diseases, modern medicine still relies heavily on a neurologist’s perception of a patient’s brain function, which lacks the precision required to provide the personalized medicine expected of modern clinical care. Fortunately, Kinarm, based in Kingston, has developed interactive robotic instruments that enable the precise quantification of human behaviour and, as Anne Vivian-Scott, president and CEO, says, “We’re providing a measuring stick where one doesn’t exist right now.”
The Kinesiological Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movement (KINARM) was invented in 1998 by Queen’s University professor Stephen Scott for his own neuroscience research, and it has been evolving ever since. The company was formed in 2004 and for nearly 20 years Kinarm’s skilled team of experts in neuroscience, engineering and software development have developed robust platforms to fit the needs of researchers around the world.
During an assessment, the subject interacts with the robot and performs a task, such as directing a hand to a target, or interacting with an object in the virtual environment. From the subject’s perspective, it feels as though they are interacting with real objects. While completing the task, the robot precisely records their arm movements and upon completing the two- to four-minute task, a detailed report of the subject’s performance is provided, comparing their behaviour to an age, sex and hand-matched control population. By following a suite of standardized protocols, a clinical researcher can assess the neurological impairments of a subject in a Kinarm Lab in just 30 to 60 minutes, saving days of clinic time. “These are tests of basic brain function that go across the three key building blocks of brain function — cognition, motor and sensory,” says Vivian-Scott. “We’re providing information to neuroscientists and clinician-scientists that’s critical to helping them develop more effective therapies for any brain injury or disease.”
The Kinarm Lab approach allows researchers to study a wide range of injuries and diseases — from stroke patients to traumatic brain injury and diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — with exceptional precision. This Canadian homegrown technology has been implemented by researchers from coast to coast and now has around 120 units worldwide.
Moving forward, their goal is to take Kinarm beyond research use and make it the gold standard for neurological assessment. To that end, they are working toward the strict certification requirements of medical devices. “We have a very complex mechatronic system that has to comply with all of these standards and so we’ve been spending a lot of time these last three years doing really grunt engineering work to ensure that our systems will be certifiable to these international standards,” says Vivian-Scott.
As they continue on the long road to medical device certification, they remain committed to their core values. “The good thing about what we do, because of how we built this business, is we’ve been selling as a scientific instrument for use in research forever. That’s always been our core, serving the needs of neuroscience and clinical scientists. […] We continue to sell instruments that matter to people’s research and that’s really how we’ve grown the business.”