The purpose of the Tech For Good series of interviews is to create a platform that showcases and champions companies, products and technologists who are using technology as a force for positive change in the world.
Yolanda: Neuronostics are a med-tech start up with a mission to revolutionise the way neurological conditions are diagnosed, treated, and monitored. We use the power of mathematical modelling to develop novel digital biomarkers that create faster paths to diagnosis and effective treatment response. Our current focus is on epilepsy. We have developed a digital biomarker of epilepsy, BioEP, which indicates the patient’s susceptibility to seizures. BioEP is intended to be used as an additional piece of information in the diagnosis of people with suspected epilepsy. Currently, diagnosis relies on observing signatures of seizures in brain signals called EEGs. These are rare events and as a result, are often not observed during EEG tests. This means that patients have to return to clinic for further tests until these seizure signatures are observed. BioEP analyses patterns in background EEG data and can therefore provide an indication of susceptibility to seizures, prior to observing seizure activity itself. We can provide this additional information to support diagnosis, speeding up and streamlining the diagnostic journey for the patient and making it more time and cost efficient for the healthcare provider.
Building on BioEP as a diagnostic decision support tool, the technology can also be used to understand how well someone is responding to medication in terms of the impact on their susceptibility to seizures. To support this, we are developing a suite of tools to monitor a person’s condition at home. This solution is intended to facilitate the process of finding the right medication faster, or helping people better understand the nature of their condition in case lifestyle changes may help to improve their quality of life.
In the future, we envisage digital biomarkers being used to identify a neurological condition prior to its onset. We hope this will mean that support can be given and perhaps treatment can be administered to delay, prevent, or better treat these conditions.
Yolanda: Our co-founders, Professor John Terry and Dr Wessel Woldman, are academics. They use mathematical network models to study how abnormal brain activity arises given the connectivity of the brain network structure. In 2015 they were funded by Innovate UK to participate in the ICURe programme, a programme intended to help academics translate their research to commercially viable ventures. This was really the beginning of Neuronostics. Following on from ICURe, John and Wes received further funding and created the Exeter University spin out, Neuronostics.
The real driving force behind developing their research into a business was their shared personal goal to really make a positive change for people living with epilepsy or suspected epilepsy. They work closely with people with lived experience of epilepsy and listen to their experiences. Our products are created based on what people with lived experience of epilepsy have told us would help them or they wish had been available for them. As a team, we are united behind the shared goal to make a positive impact for those affected by neurological conditions.
Yolanda: Our main challenge to date has been in recruiting for our technical positions. As a start up in the med tech space, it quickly became apparent that we needed and continue to need capacity to ensure we are developing products compliant with medical device regulations. Therefore, we had to recruit additional roles in our tech team. Another major consideration for us being a start up is that we need people with significant experience of architecting solutions, whilst also being able to do some ‘on the ground’ dev work, whilst also not being able to compete with salaries offered by large corporates!
Yolanda: Increasingly, we as a population are concerned with the big issues, whether its war, climate change, health….the list goes on. Technology and research and development clearly has a significant role to play in tackling these issues and if you can work in an environment that addresses some of your major concerns and personal drivers, why wouldn’t you take the opportunity?
Yolanda: Specifically in the medical space, tech for good has a clear compass: we are developing technologies that improve people’s health and quality of life, as well as trying to solve the problem of an increasingly overburdened health service. However, in this space in particular, there is a conservatism due to the necessary mitigation of risk, and a requirement that tech is interpretable. In particular, there is a considerable amount of activity in healthcare, developing machine learning methods to improve care and operational efficiency. We are in the process of trying to understand how these technologies can support healthcare, whilst ensuring they are unbiased algorithms and maintaining explainability.