February 4, 2014
A corporate-academic partnership and a medical technology startup, 7,000 miles apart, have both been working on systems using Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing system to help stroke victims recover motor skills faster and more economically.
One, a partnership between Seoul National University and Microsoft Research Asia, just unwrapped its laboratory project, Stroke Recovery with Kinect. The other, startup Jintronix, based in Montreal and Seattle, at almost the same time announced a closed beta program for the Jintronix Rehabilitation System after three years of development.
Both teams hit upon the idea of using games to make the process of rehabilitation less onerous and more fun, and increase the chances that people will stick with the long and (currently) repetitive and uninspiring exercises needed to rewire the brain after a stroke.
The simultaneous development by two teams who didn't know of each others' existence is no coincidence -- it's "a great example of how a grand societal challenge can find the greatest minds working on a similar solution," Microsoft Research's Miran Lee told InformationWeek by email.
Treating stroke in the East
The Microsoft-academic project began after a researcher from Seoul National University, Nam-Jong Paik, conceived the idea of developing a home-based rehabilitation system for stroke victims. The professor visited Microsoft Research in Beijing with others from his university, and was impressed at the work being done there using motion-sensing technology in a wide range of applications for healthcare. He partnered with Miran Lee and her team to develop Stroke Recovery with Kinect.
The project is currently in research status. Microsoft's Lee said that it is too early to talk about commercial availability while the team continues to refine and enhance the prototype. Lee said they plan to conduct clinical trials over the next couple of years with acute hemiparetic stroke patients (people with paralysis on one side of the body) at the Seoul National Bundang Hospital. The clinical trials will "investigate the impact and cost effectiveness of Stroke Recovery with Kinect in a hospital setting and the feasibility and efficacy in a real home setting," Lee told InformationWeek.
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Among the plans for future development are social features so that patients can connect with one another for support and encouragement during rehabilitation, and a way for doctors to monitor progress of patients at home remotely, from office or hospital, and to communicate with patients regarding treatment and progress.
Rehab for stroke in the West
The idea for the Jintronix Rehabilitation System was born in the mind of its CEO, Justin Tan, in 2003 when his father suffered a devastating stroke while on a flight from New York to Paris. Tan participated in his long rehabilitation and determined to find out if technology could improve the process.
The Jintronix Rehabilitation System consists of two pieces of software: JRS Wave, which runs on the patient's home computer with the aid of Microsoft Kinect, and JRS Portal, a web application that lets clinicians monitor progress. A cloud-based repository stores the results of patients' use of JRS Wave.
In 2012, the Montreal-based company participated in an early Kinect developers' program, the Kinect Accelerator incubator, sponsored by Microsoft. Jintronix captured angel funding and opened an office in Seattle.
Jintronix's project, in beta testing preceding commercial release, is farther along than Microsoft's. The Jintronix system is being tested in five countries with 150 patients at 60 clinics and hospitals.
Other medical uses
Microsoft's Kinect technology has other potential uses related to healthcare. Two projects Microsoft Research is working on involve improved diagnostics for brain tumors and real-time translation between sign language and spoken language. What other possibilities spring to mind? Please share them in the comments.
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