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GyroGlove, a glove designed to suppress hand tremors caused by Parkinson's disease, first caught our attention when it became a MedTechSouthEast finalist in our competition to find the next generation of user-centred, non-invasive medical technology. Since then, GyroGlove has gone from strength to strength: first nominated as a finalist in the AXA PPP Health Tech & You Awards, and now on target to launch at the end of 2016.
We spoke to Joon Faii Ong, the inventor of GyroGlove and founder of parent company GyroGear, about the inspiration behind the assistive device and why there is a greater need for products like GyroGlove than most of us realise.
Joon Faii Ong is a medical student at Imperial College London (ICL). One day after witnessing an elderly woman with Parkinson’s struggle to feed herself in hospital due to severe hand tremor, and being told by the doctor treating her that there was little they could do, he set about finding a solution.
Instead of using drugs to counteract the effect of the disease, which have a finite lifespan and sometimes significant side effects, Faii worked with a team of engineers, designers and medics from ICL to create a glove that would directly stabilise the hands of someone suffering from tremors, by using gyroscopes.
I was upset to be told that there was little we could do. Medications are not coming quickly enough, and that made me think about bypassing that route and finding a mechanical solution instead.Joon Faii Ong, GyroGear
The forces produced by this energy mean that a gyroscope will compensate for any movement, regardless of intensity, to retain its balance. The overall effect feels akin to moving one’s hand in thick treacle, where deliberate movement is permitted, but tremors are dampened.
"I was upset to be told that there was little we could do. Medications are not coming quickly enough, and that made me think about bypassing that route and finding a mechanical solution instead. GyroGlove offers a simple, low maintenance solution that has the potential to restore a wide range of function and activity, and really improve quality of life for millions of people,” explained Faii.
Around 10 million people worldwide and 127,000 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson’s, a progressive neurological condition that affects movement. One of its main symptoms is tremor, which in many cases can significantly affect people’s ability to eat and drink, dress, write or hold objects, making them dependent on carers. There is currently no cure for the disease, and medication used to control it can cause involuntary movements and impulsive behaviour.
In addition to Faii’s plans to help people who have tremor from Parkinson’s, there are around 200 million people that suffer from 'essential tremor', caused by stroke, multiple sclerosis and hyperthyroidism.
With the current costs of Parkinson’s related drugs already in the billions, imagine the possibilities the savings a tool such as GyroGlove could provide. It’s a fine example of how design can improve lives,John Mathers, Chief Executive, Design Council
The glove, operated by a rechargeable battery which can last up to ten hours, is lightweight and adjustable, making it suitable for a variety of hand shapes. The units will also be able to track the data produced by the user’s tremors, feeding back into medical research which will better inform users, their families and doctors.
Faii believes that the device will restore independence and improve quality of life over the long term for people with hand tremors because, unlike medication, the device does not lose efficacy through ongoing use and does not require a specialist prescription.
It is also significantly cheaper than conventional therapies for Parkinson's, with an estimated one-off cost of around £600 per device, compared to an average annual drug cost of £17,763 per patient in the UK. Parkinson’s currently costs the UK £2bn a year, and with the number of people who will have the disease set to at least double by 2030, GyroGear’s invention could represent an economical as well as a technological breakthrough.
John Mathers, Design Council Chief Executive, said: "The UN predicts that, by 2050, almost two billion people will be over the age of sixty. With the current costs of Parkinson’s related drugs already in the billions, imagine the possibilities the savings a tool such as GyroGlove could provide. That’s not to mention the independence and freedom an invention like this one can give to people with debilitating tremors. It’s a fine example of how design can improve lives, and we're proud to have helped it on its way to market."
The team is currently closing its seed round, after ‘bootstrapping’ successfully, and is on target to launch and hand over to manufacture at the end of 2016
GyroGlove first came to the attention of Design Council when it was announced as one of the winners of MedTechSouthEast in 2015. As Faii explains: "MedTechSouthEast has significantly aided GyroGear in the design process and on our route to manufacture. We're fortunate to have an invention with such potential impact, yet it takes critical, industry-specific knowledge to fulfil that potential, and turn the GyroGlove from a prototype into a commercial product. We could not be more grateful for the contacts and support with the programme, and we most certainly look forward to working with Design Council as we further refine the GyroGlove.”
As well as the support from Design Council and the MedTechSouthEast programme, GyroGlove is supported by ICL, Rolls Royce, Roche Venture Fund and GSK Biotech Venture Arm. Initial funding for the idea was provided by UnLtd on its funding programme for social entrepreneurs.
The team is currently closing its seed round, after ‘bootstrapping’ successfully, and is on target to launch and hand over to manufacture at the end of 2016. Once the model has been brought to market, Faii and the team may develop the tool to support other body parts, and even for other applications, such as physiotherapy or surgery.
Early-stage testing of GyroGlove on a bench-top rig demonstrated a 90% reduction in tremors. Follow-on testing on human patients is currently being organised. If you experience hand tremor and would like to find out if you are eligible to volunteer for tests, follow this link to contact the team.
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