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Robotic arm to aid with mental health treatment

At a glance
The challenge

Brain treatments for mental health require high accuracy

The solution

Robotic arm to complement "GPS for the brain" software

The outcome

Improved accuracy of transcranial magnetic stimulation treatments

What's next?

Manufacturing plans with local robotics company

Mental health awareness is increasing among Canadians, thanks to public education and outreach campaigns. At the same time, researchers are developing and refining mental health treatments. One of those is called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

TMS treatment involves the placement of a magnetic coil near a patient’s head. The coil produces magnetic pulses that induce currents in the patient’s brain. TMS is approved for mental health treatment in Canada and has had promising results treating illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.

Rogue Research is a Montreal-based company that initially developed “neuronavigation” software, which tracks areas of the brain and consequently, helps improve the accuracy and placement of a TMS coil. “Think of it as GPS for the brain,” explains Mathieu Coursolle, R&D Manager at Rogue Research. However, the researcher or clinical staff still needs to hold the coil above the patient’s head for up to 30 minutes, a task that’s tiring and prone to inaccuracy.

Rogue wanted to explore a robotic solution to complement their existing software and improve the accuracy of TMS treatment. So they enlisted the help of Nicholas Nadeau, a master’s student in the Automated Manufacturing Engineering department at École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, who had previously collaborated with the company as an undergraduate student. Nicholas proposed that they support the project through Mitacs Accelerate, which could augment Rogue’s budget and support Nicholas’ research.

Nicholas began researching how to develop a robotic arm that could be produced inexpensively and used in clinical settings — features not readily available with existing robotic arms. He then developed a plastic prototype using Rogue’s 3-D printers.

Ultimately, Rogue and Nicholas determined that manufacturing a robotic arm in-house would be too expensive, so they’re now exploring the project with a local robotics company. Nicholas has already made an impact.

After the internship concluded, we hired Nicholas as a part-time consultant,” Mathieu advises. “We liked his expertise, and we already knew he was a good fit for Rogue. The Accelerate internship made it easy for us to find specific expertise and take R&D risks affordably.”

Nicholas is now pursuing a PhD and furthering his interest in robotics. “I originally wanted to pursue medical school,” he says. “Now I’m working on a variety of projects with Rogue Research, including a surgical robot for small animals. Accelerate has allowed me to apply my interest in robotics to an industry challenge — now I’m working on several.”

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship Program, the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, along with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Government of  British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of  New Brunswick, the Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of  Saskatchewan for their support of Mitacs Accelerate.