Sydney Neurobionics Collaboration
SyNC for short, we are a group of researchers who believe the key advances in surgical management of disease will come from the integration of emerging technologies with modern medical practice. We are passionate about empowering people to live their lives without disfigurement and dysfunction, and to take control of their journey. We believe it is essential for practitioners of medicine to keep abreast of emerging ideas and practices, and keep pushing the possibilities on behalf of the people who seek our help.
The Sydney Neurobionics Collaboration was founded in 2018 to address the need for communication between clinicians and biomedical engineers. Our goal is to leverage rapid technological advances to improve outcomes in neuromotor diseases such as cerebral palsy, stroke and spinal cord injury.
To celebrate the launch of SyNC, the Inaugural Neuromodulation Symposium was held in Sydney on Tuesday 4th December 2018 (also via teleconference across Australia and in the USA).
During 2019 we will profile the Symposium presenters on this page. Please come back regularly, or sign up for the newsletter to be updated when new information goes live.
Profiling Our Symposium Speakers
In August we profile Dr Dimity Dornan, AO. Dimity is the Executive Director and Founder of Hear and Say, which she established in 1992 after receiving the prestigious Churchill Fellowship to study auditory-verbal methods of teaching speech and language to hearing impaired babies and pre-schoolers. Dimity achieved world-first breakthroughs, and now Hear and Say Worldwide delivers professional training benefiting thousands of children and their families around the globe.
Dimity generously shares her knowledge and experience to benefit the wider neurobionics field. In 2013 she created an Australian national alliance Human Bionics Interface and in 2016 founded Bionics Queensland, which was incorporated in 2018.
Both of these groups seek to promote further research and help bring new bionics solutions to market for the benefit of people with previously untreatable medical problems. These include not only hearing but also visual, neurological, limb and organ conditions. Wearing her Bionics Queensland hat, Dimity opened the SyNC Symposium last December by encouraging us to pursue the commercialisation of neurobionics solutions in our respective fields. It was great to have Dimity with us to share her wisdom, and she sent a long email after the event detailing her favourite moments!
Dimity has been recognised with numerous awards including Australian of the Year for Queensland in 2003, Suncorp Queenslander of the Year in 2010, and she was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 2017. She received her Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2014. Dimity’s motivating words are those of pioneer aviator Amelia Earhardt: ‘Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace’.
In June/July we profile Ben Wright, Chief Innovation Officer at Cicada Innovations and Program Director for the NSW Medical Device Commercialisation Training Program (MDCTP). The MDCTP is delivered by Cicada Innovations in partnership with NSW Health, the program funder. It is designed to accelerate commercialisation of medical technologies in NSW to bring lifesaving healthcare innovations to patients, hospitals and governments around the world. Cicada Innovations is Australia’s leading incubator and it helps residing technical entrepreneurs achieve global success through tailored long-term strategic and tactical business advice and mentoring support.
Ben has more than 19 years experience in Research and Development, Clinical Trials, Operations, Financial Management and Commercialisation within both private and ASX listed technology businesses. He has been part of Australia’s most successful innovation incubator and accelerator programs.
During the Symposium Ben delivered some hard-hitting messages that are essential reflections for anyone who wants to innovate and bring a solution to market. He wants to see medical device entrepreneurs “aggressively expand your mind” and “blow up your startup”. He knows the traps that can lead to failure such as running out of cash, not meeting the market need, and not having the right team.
In May we profile John Parker, CEO of Saluda Medical and ex-Cochlear engineer responsible for the smarts inside the Cochlear implant. This is an auspicious month for John as Saluda Medical, the company he founded in 2013, announced the successful interim results of their clinical trial using the Evoke ECAP-Controlled, Closed-Loop Spinal Cord Stimulation system for the treatment of chronic back and leg pain. Now awaiting regulatory approval, the best-ever study results were shared at this month’s International Neuromodulation Society Congress in Sydney and wowed an international audience of Pain Specialists and medical device juggernauts including Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Abbott, Nevro and StimWave. This is the future of medicine: to be able to offer personalised therapies. Read more about this device and its potential applications for many other conditions.
Identified by The Financial Review in 2017 as one of their True Leaders Game Changers, John is not just proving that commercialisation of a Neuromodulation device that changes lives is possible, he is also a strong advocate and mentor for other Australians who are trying to achieve the same. In fact it was fellow Aussie Tom Oxley, CEO of Synchron Medical, who credited John for his pivotal advice at last year’s SyNC Symposium, after Tom reached out to John for advice when he hit a road block during the early part of his commercialisation journey. John’s advice: Learn the principles of negotiation and know your" “walkaway”.
John has much valuable advice to share about innovating and commercialising a medical device, after being heavily involved with developing the Cochlear implant and now the Evoke Spinal Cord Stimulator. One of the major points that John emphasises is the importance of building excellent documentation systems from day one in preparation for the regulatory processes that will be required to get a medical device to help anyone. In the case of Evoke, the design dossier alone was so long it would take four times longer to read than all of the Harry Potter books!
In March we profile Robert Kapsa. Rob Kapsa is a molecular and cell biologist who has worked extensively on the development of autologous cell-based regenerative solutions for diseased and damaged nerve and muscle tissue. Evolving from these challenging interests, Prof. Kapsa has developed concurrent activities in Gene Therapy, Adult Stem Cell Biology and Biomaterials Development & Application.
Like many in the Symposium audience, he is excited by the possibilities of significant leaps forward by integrating innovative technologies such as 3D printing and tissue engineering, with modern medical practice.
He is also Head of Research at the Department of Neuroscience, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne. Rob has extensive experience in tissue regeneration, cell and molecular biology, gene therapy, biochemistry and the use of polymers for tissue engineering, specifically in the area of muscle/nerve regeneration and has conducted a number of projects investigating regeneration and gene therapy in Muscular Dystrophy, and nerve regeneration.
Rob is a Faculty Member of the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials and part of the team at ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science involved in the 3D printing revolution that has delivered the custom 3D printer for microtia, recently profiled on Channel 10. He engaged the Symposium audience with his passionate presentation and genuine interest in the work of others.
In February we profile Tom Oxley. Tom is the founder and CEO of Synchron and led the original team that created the Stentrode™ device at the University of Melbourne. He now leads the company and also holds the position of neurointerventionalist in the department of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Health System. Dr Oxley established the Vascular Bionics laboratory at the University of Melbourne, which received substantial funding from the US defense organization DARPA, and is the founder of three start-up companies: SmartStent, VascuLab and Synchron.
Synchron was recently highlighted as one of 21 Neurotech start-ups to watch. Find out why by watching Tom’s talk at the June 2018 TEDxSydney, where he explains what could be the first direct link between AI and the human brain, and reveals the world's first minimally invasive digital spinal cord. He shares the exciting story behind the ongoing development of this unique wireless device that can interpret signals from the brain for patients with paralysis without the need for open brain surgery or direct contact with brain tissue.
At the SyNC Symposium Tom shared some lessons he has learnt during his journey to commercialisation of his medical devices. Three things he wished he had known 5 years ago were: the basics of negotiation; belief in the value of external patent advice; pitch early and embrace criticism. He also talked about the importance of mentors, and of seeking advice from veterans, those who had real experience from their own journey.
Dr Thomas Oxley was named the 2018 Advance Life Sciences Award Winner for his work on the Stentrode™, and was named as the Overall Winner of the Advance Awards 2018. The Advance Awards celebrate Australians working overseas who exhibit remarkable talent, exceptional vision and ambition.
In January we profiled Nate Jowett. Nate is a fellowship-trained head and neck surgeon specializing in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. Devoted to improving therapeutic treatments for patients experiencing facial paralysis, Dr Jowett offers the complete spectrum of medical and surgical procedures for facial nerve disorders to his patients. His research focuses on exploration and application of light-tissue interactions and engineering innovations to advance knowledge, techniques, and outcomes in facial reconstructive surgery. His work uses machine learning to track facial movements and you can see more about this at Surgical Photonics and Engineering Laboratory (SPEL).
In many ways, Nate is unique in that he comes to the medical device innovation space from the perspective of a working clinician rather than from engineering. He bridges the gap between clinical medicine and electrical engineering, and focuses very much on what impact his research will have clinically. I was inspired by Nate’s work when I was involved with the Bionic Face project in Harvard last year. It reinforced to me that we have at our fingertips the technology to control nerves, and hence muscles, throughout the body, awakening my enthusiasm to apply these ideas to patients with cerebral palsy.
Watch Rod J. Rohrich, MD, Editor-in-Chief of "Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery" talk about this experimental bionic device that may help people recover full facial animation after facial paralysis. This link also provides information on the January 2019 PRS #PlasticSurgery article, "Toward the Bionic Face: A Novel Neuroprosthetic Device Paradigm for Facial Reanimation Comprising Neural Blockade and Functional Electrical Stimulation" by Jowett, Kearney, Knox, and Hadlock.
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