New product benefits from Accelerate intern’s expertise

Dalhousie grad the right fit for team developing new power-assist knee brace

But while the Halifax-based startup had worked-out the mechanical design of its brace, its team knew they needed people with expertise in body movement and rehabilitation to test it. That’s where Mitacs Accelerate came in. With expertise from two interns, Spring Loaded was able to make some big strides in its research.

One of those interns was physiotherapist Tony Ingram. Having just arrived from Newfoundland after completing his Masters in Kinesiology at Memorial University, Tony had an in-depth knowledge of knee function and chronic knee pain.

“As a physiotherapist, I’ve seen a lot of products that weren’t tested prior to release, and ended up not actually working,” says Tony, who’s now working on a Neuroscience PhD at Dalhousie University. “In this case, Spring Loaded had a good idea for a much-needed function that no-one had tried before, and the team wanted to test their brace before releasing it for patient use — which is how it should be.”

The Spring Loaded design works by storing energy when it bends, using that energy to help push when a person’s leg straightens, taking the load off of his or her knee. That summer, the team had to create the prototype, get ethical approval to test it on humans, and recruit up to 20 people to put it through its paces.

“It was a huge learning curve for me,” says Tony, “Coming to a new lab, doing the prep work, finding recruits, helping communications by blogging about the process, working-out all the unforeseen challenges, making adjustments, and giving feedback to the designers. It felt good to know that industry valued my expertise, and it opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities.”

Tony helped us understand the real-world function of the existing design,” says Spring Loaded President and CEO Chris Cowper-Smith. “The results of his work also helped us modify it for future iterations.”

In the end, the project was a success.

“This is going to help a lot of patients in rehab,” says Tony. “It’ll also be useful as an injury-prevention device.”

“We’re planning on launching the brace later this year, and we’ve already had a lot of interest in it for a wide variety of uses,” says Chris. “Amongst others, patients with knee injuries and a variety of neurological conditions could use it to enhance their mobility and quality of life. We’re also hearing from aging athletes who want to stay at the top of their performance.”

Chris notes there’s been a significant benefit from Accelerate. “It opened the door to bringing in highly-qualified, third-party experts who otherwise wouldn’t have been on our team. For a small startup, that’s invaluable. Because of that, we’re always open to having more Mitacs interns.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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