National Bionics Innovation Prize Winner 2021
NATIONAL PRIZE WINNER
Project Leader: Dr Nigel Greenwood
Team: Professor Jenny Gunton, Dr Jim Murray, Alex Muirhead and Anthony Cruz
Project: A machine-intelligent artificial pancreas communicating with an implanted EEG sensor to transform hypoglycaemia risk
Novel AI sits at the heart of this innovation delivering a ‘new to the world’ diagnostic and insulin delivery solution for individuals with highly unstable type 1 diabetes. Evolutionary machine learning and adversarial AI evolve and interpret personalised models of type 1 diabetes generating safe, effective insulin strategies.
The solution includes a new American wearable micro-dosing insulin pump made compatible with a Danish implantable subcutaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) filament sensor. The fingerstick, continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and insulin pump data are unified in coherent personal models to enable highly accurate insulin dosage.
The AI software running on an Edge device communicating with the pump constitutes a machine-intelligent artificial pancreas. The EEG sensor independently detects hypoglycaemic events and will be used to monitor stress/anxiety levels requiring real-time adaptive modification of the insulin strategies.
Bionics Challenge 2021 – $50,000 Major Category Prize Winners
MAJOR PRIZE WINNER
Project Leader: Professor Laurent Frossard
Team: Dr David Saxby, Dr Michael Schuetz, Ross Powrie and Caroline Graydon
Project: Thomax 2.0 – How bionic limbs can pull more than their weight
When a bionic limb is surgically implanted, both the recipient of the limb and their clinician wants to ensure that the implant is stable within the bone to avoid pain, implant loosening and infection. Dr Frossard and his team are working towards proof-of-concept of a medical device called Thomax 2.0 which integrates state-of-the-art wearable loading sensors and personalised computational neuromusculoskeletal models to test a digital twin of the residual limb during load bearing exercises.
Greater safety, mobility and less infection is expected with Thomax 2.0 being the first-ever, non-invasive and easy-to-use diagnostic device designed to achieve bionic implant integration that enables pain-free and efficient rehabilitation exercises.
MAJOR PRIZE WINNER
Project Leader: Dr Anna Hatton
Team: Professor Ingvars Birznieks, Lise Pape, Leanne Mullan and Dr Sheree Hurn
Project: Augmented Vibrotexture – sensory bionics technology for balance restoration in foot nerve damage
To maintain balance, specialised foot skin receptors continuously monitor vibrations, skin stretch and pressure changes under the feet. These tactile signals travel along sensory nerves into the reflex arcs and motor control centres of the central nervous system. In neuropathy, nerve signaling between the feet and central nervous system is diminished, and complex operations such as ‘upright balance’ can grind to a halt. Damage to sensory nerves in the feet harms the ability to feel vibrations and touch.
Augmented Vibrotexture’s insole design will enhance sensory input from the feet and optimise motor actions. The concept behind the solution – Augmented Vibrotexture insoles – is that sensory neurons work best when ‘noise’ is present (‘stochastic resonance’).
Bionic Implants & Organs
MAJOR PRIZE WINNER
Project Leader: Dr Farzaneh Ahmadi
Team: Dr Mousa Ahmadi, Dr Mohsen Askari and Dr Richard Gallagher
Project: Laronix Bionic Voice – world’s first bionic voice prosthesis for larynx amputees
Bionic Voice is the world’s only smart natural-sounding artificial voice box for larynx amputees. The non-invasive electronic device is provided in headset form and monitors a patient’s respiration using sensors placed outside the neck. Inside the headset, there is an AI software module that mimics the performance of human vocal folds and generates voice automatically in response to respiration. The generated voice is transferred to the mouth via a thin tube.
Bionic Voice has three unique combined advantages. It is the world’s only artificial larynx technology with natural voice quality and male/female distinction; it is a smart device that uses AI and can be trained to reach an ultra-realistic quality of voice that resembles the patient’s own; and it is inherently safe and completely non-invasive, eliminating all of the bio-hazards of conventional voice prostheses.
Bionics, the Brain, Neurotech & AI
MAJOR PRIZE WINNER
Project Leader: Casey Pfluger
Team: Amy-Rose Goodey, Suraj Kandel Aaron Lederhose
Project: Cortex Brainwave Technologies – Neurosensor
Cortex Brainwave Technologies is developing a high-quality ‘tuneable’ medical sensor that utilises both functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and electroencephalogram (EEG) and far exceeds the capability of any standalone EEG or NIR sensor on the market. The development of consumer, portable and user-friendly brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) is dependent on both sensors and the hardware. Monitoring of home-based patients using self-applied sensing systems is one of the most challenging applications of wearable sensing and is plagued with motion artefacts, interoperability issues, interference (EEG) and data quality.
When combined with wearables for Internet of Things (IoT) systems, they face the problems of unreliable mobile data networks, power/battery management issues as well as false positives and negatives. The combined problems make the use of EEG-based medical sensors unsuitable for many medical scenarios. With substantial challenges impeding the performance of existing BCI implementations, Cortex is developing a new comfortable, convenient, and high quality NIR sensor.
The initial use case for the Cortex Neurosensor will be a home-based neurofeedback therapy using a portable BCI headset for the almost one in five Australians affected by brain disorders such as acquired brain injury, learning disabilities, stroke, ADHD and autism. To date, there have been limited therapeutic interventions available and a significant social and economic cost involved for affected individuals and their family members. The team is inspired by the personal experiences of the Neurosensor inventor and his young daughter.
Previous Early-Stage Bionics Innovation Award Winners
BIONIC MOBILITY CATEGORY
Project Leader: Dr Vanesa Bochkezanian
Team: Dr Antonio Padilha Lanari Bo, Camila Quel de Oliveira, Nishu Tyagi and Leanne O’ Neill
Project: Electrical stimulation – A bionic treatment for people with neurological injuries including spinal cord injury (SCI)
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) has been successfully used to increase muscle strength, reduce the debilitating effects of muscle paralysis and to restore function in people with neurological conditions. Typically, NMES can improve musculoskeletal health, reduce symptoms of spasticity and oedema plus improve bladder and bowel function for people with SCI.
Further use of NMES in clinical settings and greater integration of NMES with bionic solutions, such as exoskeletons and brain-computer-interfaces is anticipated. This project will focus on a new modality of electrical stimulation, extending its use in existing commercial devices and exploring potential novel applications – for example, NMES treatment techniques applied in combination with ergometers, such as cycling and rowing, exoskeletons/robotics devices and/or robotic exoskeletons and mechanical-assisted gait trainers to maximise rehabilitation outcomes.
BIONIC SENSES CATEGORY
Project Leader: Dr Antonio Padilha Lanari Bo
Team: Sue Laracy, Andrea McKittrick, Mathilde Desselle and Dr Alejandro Melendez-Calderon
Project: SEOUL – Sensory experiences in occupational therapy for upper limbs
The SEOUL system employs multi-sensory stimulation to enhance upper limb rehabilitation. In occupational therapy, patient-centred care is vital to align the person, their environment and their occupation.
The SEOUL innovation uses simulated person-relevant and environment-relevant scenarios to optimise a person’s occupational performance in real life. The rehabilitation system is proposed for use in both clinical and home settings. The next stage of this project is further testing of prototypes for controller-free VR-based hand rehabilitation, as well as wearable units for sensing and stimulating.
MAJOR CATEGORY & NATIONAL PRIZE ENTRANT
BIONIC SENSES CATEGORY
Project Leader: Andrew Peterson
Team: Professor Graham Kerr, David Peterson, Glenda Peterson and Aaron Shanahan
Project: Gyrite – A haptic wearable with somatosensory stimuli that gives people with severe balance dysfunction feedback to stay upright
The Gyrite wearable aims to provides tactile input as a surrogate for the vestibular system. By providing live, continuous physical feedback based on the user’s own motion, their subconscious learns to improve their posture automatically.
At least 20,000 Australians and over six million people around the world suffer severe bilateral vestibular loss (BVL). The team hopes to create an affordable, intuitive product that will help people improve their balance across the day, wherever they find themselves, helping them to reclaim some of the freedom and quality of life they have lost, and reduce the burden on the healthcare system overall.
BIONICS, THE BRAIN & AI (NEUROTECH & NEUROBIONICS)
Project Leader: Dr Matilde Balbi, Queensland Brain Institute
Team: Montana Samantzis, Dr Lucy Tainton-Heap, Dr Maxime Abran and Professor Peter Nestor
Project: Development of an individualised closed-loop approach for stroke recovery
Nationally in 2020, an estimated 27,000 people were affected by stroke, corresponding to one stroke every 19 minutes. Approximately 15 million people have strokes annually worldwide, accounting for roughly 3% of total health care expenditure globally. Stroke frequently results in lifelong disability in survivors, with a resulting economic burden in Australia of around $6 billion annually in the short term. However, the long-term financial burden from short and long-term disabilities that stroke victims endure is estimated to cost around $25 billion each year.
This talented Queensland Brain Institute team is developing an individualised treatment for stroke recovery that uses an automated system to monitor brain activity while delivering direct brain stimulation. The system is currently being tested in a mouse model of stroke. Ultimately, an integrative and innovative system is proposed where brain stimulation is customised using AI-based computation.
This innovation will enable the design of devices that use endogenous brain activity to create individualised treatment regimes. This non-invasive technology will not only improve behavioural recovery outcomes but potentially also increase the quality of life of many stroke survivors.
Previous Highly Commended Finalists
NATIONAL BIONICS INNOVATION ENTRY
Project Leader: Professor Colette McKay, Bionics Institute
Team: Dr Darren Mao, Dr Gautam Balasubramanian, Dr Julia Wunderlich and Dr Elaine Saunders
EarGenie is a bionics diagnostic system that uses a novel baby-friendly brain imaging method – functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) – to obtain critical information needed for earlier optimal intervention for babies born with a hearing loss.
Earlier intervention than currently possible will lead to improved speech and language development and consequently life-long social, educational, and employment benefits for an improved quality of life. The delay between identification of hearing loss (usually via newborn hearing screening) and provision of the optimal type of hearing instrument that is accurately programmed for the infant’s individual hearing ability, is extremely detrimental to language development. The shorter the delay in infancy, the better language outcome at 5 years old – an impact seen even with delays as small as two months.
Using the early-stage EarGenie fNIRS system, the Bionics Institute team has shown that fNIRS brain imaging is a suitable technique for assessing hearing ability and speech sound discrimination, even in sleeping infants and in patients with auditory neuropathy. The ability to assess speech sound discrimination in sleeping infants is a game-changer that will allow assessment in the first few months of life of whether a cochlear implant is needed rather than a hearing aid, instead of waiting until language delay is apparent (and therefore too late for optimal outcomes).
BIONICS, THE BRAIN AND AI (NEUROTECH & NEUROBIONICS)
Project Leader: Professor Ted Goranson (Sirius-beta Pty Ltd)
Team: Justin Kenardy, Larry Sanford and Matt Garcia
Project: A neural grammar with bionic affordances
The focus of this innovation is twofold: (1) the mastery of the language of signals conveyed from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve and other complex channels and, (2) developing nanotech bionic devices to monitor and modify the bio-communities that sense and moderate these signals.
A first goal of the team is to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The innovation will focus on a specific signal pathway model for PTSD effect, including cognitive effects and gut microbiome influences via the vagus nerve. Currently, PTSD cripples 8-9% of the population world-wide, and possibly twice that with the COVID-19 pandemic and growing unrelated refugee crises. Pharmaceutical treatments only address the symptoms, not the ‘extinction’ of the fear memory.
A disorder mediation model that uses the language of signals from the gut to the brain to inform a human bionic interface is expected to inform much-needed therapy for PTSD and the related bionic device development.
Previous National Contestants
NATIONAL BIONICS INNOVATION ENTRY
Project Leader: Dr Stefano Palomba
Team: Dr Anai Gonzalez-Cordero, Associate Professor Duk Choi and Dr Shadi Houshyar
Project: NeuroBridge – a universal nerve interface
Everyday actions, such as grabbing an object, walking, admiring a view or enjoying music, are impossible for millions of people who suffer from a nerve injury or the absence of a limb/organ. Limbs, eyes, ears and organs are all connected to the peripheral nervous system (PNS), receiving a command from the brain and returning a sensorial feedback. Damage to the PNS is devastating because its regenerative capabilities are limited.
Close to two billion people are affected by a disability, 83% of which could be mitigated by a bionic device directly connected to the PNS. The NeuroBridge team is developing a platform to deliver a universal nerve interface that could provide a global solution, connecting any device to the peripheral nervous system.
NeuroBridge is expected to enable the control of any bionic device and at the same time receive sensory feedback allowing the person to “feel”.
NATIONAL BIONICS INNOVATION ENTRY
Project Leader: Professor Gursel Alici
Team: Dr Gerardo Montoya, Professor Gordon Wallace and Dr Hao Zhau
Project: ReTouch – A closed-loop system for upper limb haptic recovery
A bio-directional system is in development that enables the user’s intention is read directly from the peripheral nervous system but also feeds signals to a pattern recognition system that adapts to end user requirements and gives more intuitive control over a prosthetic limb.
Currently, the solutions that exist in the market are expensive and limited in terms of movements with costs up to $80,000 on average for a unidirectional, heavy and non-intuitive system where the intention of the patient can be read but does not generate any feedback – causing low satisfaction and discomfort in at least 20,000 Australians.
The goal of the ReTouch system is to return the sense of touch using technology and materials of the latest generation accessible and adaptable to the needs of the user, ensuring the well-being and independence of the patient.