Accelerating healthcare through new global partnerships
Accelerating healthcare through new global partnerships
With each human bionics breakthrough, the potential to treat a range of untreatable medical conditions multiplies. Science, technology and the internet have converged in exciting ways to impact human health. Bionics, a fusion of medicine and engineering has fuelled an explosion in medtech research and the production of many new devices inspired by the human body.
With healthcare budgets decreasing, the demand for new innovative, cost-effective and sustainable healthcare solutions is at an all-time high. New bionic devices that interface with the human brain and nervous system are a vital plank in future healthcare.
Australia as the founder of the Human Bionics Interface network is among those at the forefront in bionics research. And it was the test bed and home of the first successful commercialisation of a neuromodulation device, the Australian-invented multi-channel cochlear implant (bionic ear) to treat significant hearing loss. Importantly, Australia has also been an innovator and leading service provider in training the brain to learn to use a bionics device (e.g. the bionic ear) and training end users, their families and allied health professionals.
Since the bionic ear, many bionics devices have emerged and work is progressing quickly on bionics solutions for other sensory disorders (e.g. vision and balance). Bionics research is also providing new treatments for many common medical problems, such as paralysis, untreatable cancer or neuropathic pain and damaged or missing body parts (organs or limbs), neurological and psychiatric conditions. We can now treat neurological problems like Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy; we can create brain-computer interfaces with thought-activated bionic limbs’ and augment or replace organ function through various hardware and software.
The field of bionics is one of the rapid high growth industries of the 21st century. In some fields, growth is set to increase by as much as 700% by 2020. A shared challenge for bionics leaders is working out how to achieve this growth and maintain equality, giving access to bionics devices to those in need across all nations.
The complex interface of bionics devices with the brain is central to the clinical success of scientific breakthroughs in this exciting new field. Equally vital is the need to understand and manage an array of other human variables – anatomical, physiological, socioeconomic, cultural, geographic and financial factors. Adapting to a new bionic device is life changing.
The brain is the one common denominator in all bionics devices with 86 billion neurones and 100 trillion connections making it the most complex entity in the known universe. The global economic cost of brain disorders is US$2.5 trillion, a figure which will rapidly escalate in the decades to come without accelerated insights and treatments. It has been said that the “quest to understand the brain will be the defining feature of the 21st century” (Kunal Ghosh, 2015, World Economic Forum). The time is right to focus globally on expanded funding streams for brain research to translate basic research into real patient outcomes.
Progress in the development of bionic devices is slow because of lack of opportunities for innovators and clinicians to learn from each other and work together, a lack of long term funding, challenging government policies and a general sense of disbelief.
The importance of building knowledge about how to interface the bionic device with an actual human being must be strongly emphasised. Research and education must extend to brain training for the end user and their family and to allied health professionals. As with cochlear implants, bionic devices do not work if the human brain is not trained to use the technology. Lack of understanding of how the brain functions at every level is the major obstacle to progress in the bionics arena.
Both the EU and US governments are contributing major funding into brain research and countries like Australia and China are focussing on specific research like the ageing brain.
Dr Babak Kateb, Founder and CEO of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) and its companion foundation, World Brain Mapping (BMF) , together with Professor Q.Y. Ma have co-convened the N20+ (Neuroscience 20+) alongside the G20 Summit in China. Dr Kateb says the global consortium launched in China during G20 with the specific aim of integrating nanotechnology, device, imaging and cellular therapy is vital. The Australia-led, Human-Bionics Interface aims to collaborate with this consortium and other groups to help formulate global policies that enable scientists to integrate, translate and more rapidly commercialise advanced bionics devices.
Human Bionics Frontiers as a global network and in turn, Bionics Queensland (BioniQ) will help to set the foundation for the bionics solutions of the future.
Globally, we will promote awareness of the need for a far greater understanding of the human brain. We will also work with other bionic thought leaders and enterprises to focus attention on the interplay of business and long-distance funding which transcends time frames and governments.
Cross disciplinary collaboration betwee end-users, research institutions, clinicians, industry and government is a necessary foundation for the continued success of human bionics solutions globally. Human Bionics Interface will serve as a “convenor of great minds” to address these challenges, bringing stakeholders together across different bionics arenas (and building on the vision shaped by the network in November, 2013).
While Human Bionics Interface is a global network begun in Australia, it has been rapidly joined by major players in the US, UK, India and China. The collaborative power of a “Human-Bionics Interface” has grown in strength in 2016.
The potential is for improved outcomes for clients and their families, reduced health budgets, and accelerated progress of new bionic devices to help real people…faster.
Devices like the bionic eye, bionic limbs with thought-activated software, deep brain stimulation, bionic replacement organs and other innovations are now happening sooner with increased trans-disciplinary collaboration.
The Human-Bionics Interface network is already translating research and innovation into real health and economic benefits. Dr Dimity Dornan AO, as founder of HBI says that “the intent is to form trans-national linkages between scientists, investors, research institutions and business clusters, as some of the partnerships that will be necessary to accelerate healthcare of the future through bionic devices”.
As this new global network gathers momentum, we will see a dynamic and interactive environment with a cross-pollination of new ideas. We can easily foresee the birth of new bionic devices for diagnostics and treatment and the rapid integration of new therapies into the field.
Human Bionics Interfaces will also help to grow individual city and country intelligence and intellectual capital in the form of knowledge industries plus real and virtual business clusters.
Liaison with government and funding bodies is pivotal. Governments must respond by financing research and clinical translation to unravel the great unknowns about the human brain, accelerate outcomes for patients and reduce the competition for funds. The result will be significant improvements in the health budget of nations around the world.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc. with Steve Jobs said recently that change needs to happen from the top, and we need to learn to speak each other’s technological language. Leaders need to think like venture capitalists, with a portfolio approach to digital innovation initiatives, and build the technology starting with the end in mind.
For those who participate in Human Bionics Interface, there is a shared opportunity for a new level of collaboration and a new wave of bionics innovation. Get involved – contact Dr Dimity Dornan about joining this network on: Dimity.Dornan@hearandsay.com.au
Human-Bionics Interface is a global group developed to unlock the major healthcare opportunities and the challenges facing the human bionics sector. Multi-national and cross disciplinary partnerships are the ideal pathway to boost commercialisation of brain/computer interfaces, neuromodulation devices, bio-fabrication techniques, prosthetics, robotics, organ repair/replacement, neural implants and other bionics solutions.
Those who participate in this Human Bionics Interface network are clearly those who see the dawn of the bionic age as a major enabler of human health, rich in benefits for developed and developing nations around the world.