Australian innovation focused on better outcomes in stroke

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Scott Kirkland, the co-founder and executive director of EMVision, says people living in regional Australia remain at greater risk of stroke and worse outcomes because of the time it can take to access treatment.

EMVision was founded in 2017 to address accessibility challenges in medical imaging. After acquiring the intellectual property from UniQuest, which is the University of Queensland’s commercialisation arm, it embarked on the process of development and commercialisation.

According to Mr Kirkland, "When diagnosing and treating stroke, 'time is brain'. Treatment needs to be provided within the first few hours of stroke onset, ideally within the 'golden hour'.

"Every single minute counts and in most places around the world, 'golden hour' treatment is rare, even in Australia. The tyranny of distance plays a significant role with one-third of our population living in a rural or remote community with limited access to time-sensitive neuroimaging and stroke care."

He said the past decade has seen significant innovation and advances in stroke treatment, including surgical and therapeutic interventions.

"We know these are highly effective, saves lives and can enable patients to make a full recovery. However, these treatments can not be applied until clinicians have looked inside the brain and determined the type of stroke.

"Unfortunately, the pace of innovation in portable neuroimaging has not kept pace with the innovation in stroke treatment. Our ambition, working alongside the Australian Stroke Alliance, is to help deliver urgent stroke care on the roads and in the air, for all Australians, regardless of their location.

Mr Kirkland said while CT and MRI are important imaging tools, they are largely inaccessible at the point of care, particularly for time-sensitive medical emergencies that require urgent neuroimaging.

"EMVision has two generations of product under development that can be brought to the patient, wherever they are. Our 'first gen' product is a cart-based portable brain scanner, designed for use in hospitals, clinics, and other environments where CT or MRI are not accessible or practical.

"Our 'second gen' is a helmet system designed for use in road and air ambulances. In the acute phase of a stroke, whether that stroke has occurred in a hospital or out in the community, clinicians try to get an urgent and accurate diagnosis to establish which patients are suitable for effective, time-critical interventions. 

"The benefit of having the technology available, such as our portable brain scanner, is to help enable that earlier on-scene diagnosis and treatment. After treatment, our 'first gen' device intends to also offer a bedside neuromonitoring capability that has not existed previously, tracking clinical changes such as response to treatment, and providing earlier identification of complications, particularly for patients that are critically unwell and challenging to transport to radiology."

The company's technology was the brainchild of experts at the University of Queensland, including Professor Amin Abbosh, Professor Stuart Crozier, Dr Konstanty Bialkowski and their team of researchers. 

"Our technology uses signals in the electromagnetic spectrum to distinguish between ischaemic and haemorrhagic strokes in a matter of minutes without the use of ionising radiation," said Mr Kirkland.

"Our scanner acquires data in under 30 seconds, can reconstruct images in a few minutes and does not require any contrast agents. It's also very light, portable and easy to use meaning it has the potential to offer a faster and more accessible neuroimaging solution for time-sensitive medical emergencies like stroke, and in the future other conditions such as traumatic brain injury."