SINGAPORE - Recovering from a debilitating stroke can be a tough and challenging process, with patients needing to spend countless hours re-learning basic motor skills.
Traditionally, occupational therapists have helped the patient with his exercises, but with Singapore's manpower crunch there is an increasing need to automate this process.
That is where NeuroStyle comes in. The local start-up is developing a promising product to help patients with their rehabilitation at home.
"The technique relies on virtual technology," said Dr Johnson Lu, director at NeuroStyle. "We hope to start production in the middle of next year."
The system will involve sensors being placed on the patient's head to record his brain waves. An image on a screen would guide the patient on his motor skill exercises - and would let him know if he is doing them right, based on his brain wave readings.
A caregiver at home can put the sensors on the patient's head, after receiving training from a medical staff member or a therapist. The patient and the caregiver will also be trained on how to properly use the machine, and to do the exercises.
With the feedback, Dr Lu, 47, expects the patients will do their exercises better and recover faster.
The system is expected to cost $2,000 to $3,000 per unit, said Dr Lu, adding that it would be affordable for most stroke patients. The first prototypes should be available later this year.
The as-yet-unnamed rehabilitation system will be the largest project for NeuroStyle, which was started last year. The firm is a joint venture between China company Shanghai NCC Electronics and local firm Brilliant Medical Systems, fully owned by Dr Lu.
Both firms have experience in medical technology.
For instance, Brilliant Medical was previously a distributor of such products - and decided that designing and manufacturing its own products was the way to go.
"We can get much higher volumes by manufacturing than distributing," said China-born Dr Lu, who has been working here for almost 20 years and is now a Singaporean.
"When we distribute we have a presence only in a few countries, maybe Singapore and Malaysia. But we can manufacture for many more regional countries. For a start, we are targeting ASEAN countries, India and China... If we were only a distributor, we wouldn't be able to reach as far as China," he said.
NeuroStyle has lost money since its inception - having no revenue and yet racking up operational costs. Funding from its two parent companies has kept it afloat, and it has also received funding from enterprise agency Spring Singapore for the development of the stroke rehabilitation system.
NeuroStyle expects revenue to start flowing in from next year.
Dr Lu, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, expects annual revenue to be less than $5 million, for next year and 2015.
The firm has about 10 employees, and wants to recruit 10 more. A further 10 employees of Shanghai NCC will do some work for NeuroStyle but remain on the China company's payroll.
NeuroStyle has had some support from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).
In fact, its stroke rehabilitation system was developed by A*Star's Institute for Infocomm Research and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
The technology transfer arm of A*Star is facilitating the licensing of the technology to Neuro- Style, which may see a small part of the product's profit going to A*Star.
NeuroStyle also has other devices in the pipeline which it hopes to start producing next year. The prototype has already been completed for a stroke diagnosis machine which Dr Lu hopes to sell to regional hospitals.
"The local-made diagnosis devices used by hospitals in many developing countries may be less accurate," said Dr Lu. "But our product will have better signals from the brain for better accuracy in detecting strokes."
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