“Meerkats And Avatars” Cambridge (UK) Technology Event

Seventeen early-stage companies were today proudly demonstrating their innovative technologies at the “Meerkats and Avatars” event in Cambridge, UK .  The event, best described as a “media event and pitching session” is held annually and represents an opportunity for new, mostly early stage, technologies to be showcased particularly to mid-sized businesses, journalists and potential investors.

David Gill, Director of the event host St John’s Innovation Centre (SJIC),  pointed out that; “This year, the Meerkats and Avatars event has been oversubscribed, showing the wealth of innovation across the region.”

While the presenting companies were a mixed bag of technologies and applications there were a few notable medical technology highlights.  Full details of these and the other technologies on show can be found in individual press releases here.  What follows are our edited highlights:

CamStent: Polymer coatings reduce biofilm formation and associated infection potential.

CamStent has developed and patented polymer coatings, derived from a well-characterised class of organic compounds called resorcinarenes. The polymer prevents the formation of biofilms, thin layers of microorganisms, usually protozoa and bacteria, which aggregate on the surface of implanted medical devices.

CamStent founder David Hampton described a ‘eureka’ moment when he realised that a polymer, designed to prevent moss sticking to roofs, would have huge benefit in the medical industry to stop bacteria colonising urinary catheters. His invention has the potential to save healthcare providers millions on the cost of treating urinary infections alone as one in four hospital patients require a urinary catheter and over half of adults who have catheters fitted for over two weeks during a hospital stay will contract an infection. It is also hoped that the technology, which it is believed will outperform silver and antibiotic coatings, will find its way into orthopaedic implants and cardiovascular stents.

COSMOS Lasers: Technology to enable portable medical diagnostics

Accurate medical diagnostics for diseases such as malaria often require laser-based spectroscopic or visible image analysis of thin microscopic samples. These techniques could be improved using tuneable lasers, but these are unfortunately large and expensive, and are beyond the means of most hospitals in malarial zones. The lack of access to such tests, and therefore the inability to differentiate between different viral species, means that malaria and indeed other diseases are often misdiagnosed. Using liquid crystals, COSMOS has produced a compact and low-cost laser, which is tuneable to any spectral wavelength, from the near Ultra Violet to Infra-Red. This broadband technology could make diagnosis tests affordable, portable and easy to perform at any time.

gaitSMART: Gait Analysis tool 

As the London Broncos rugby league team gears up for the start of a new Super League season, an innovative technology from European Technology for Business is helping them achieve full fitness. gaitSMART monitors a player‟s movements, so any sign of injury is immediately picked up and damage can either be treated proactively or prevented. Following treatment, gaitSMART allows monitoring of the player to ensure the optimum path back to full fitness.  Light-weight sensors are attached to both calves and both thighs, and monitor the movement of the calf and thigh relative to each other. In a normal gait the calf swings forwards directly under the knee, but it is common for the lower leg to move out of plane.  This data is picked up by gaitSMART and can be used by physiotherapists and as part of the recovery programme from operative treatment.

The London Knee Clinic, at London Bridge Hospital, uses gaitSMART as an integral part of its diagnosis and treatment. A reading is taken before treatment, and then repeated on a number of occasions to monitor recovery. One sign that someone hasn‟t recovered well from an injury is a lack of symmetry, and the graphs allow objective comparisons between left and right.

WALKASINS™: Improving balance and mobility in the elderly

Loss of sensation in the feet increases the incidence of falls in people over 65. Walkasins™ is a novel insole for the shoe that uses vibrations to help improve balance. Trials have shown that users walked with more confidence and the immediate benefits of wearing Walkasins™ are comparable to 3 to 6 months of exercise therapy. The Walkasins™ insole works by detecting when the wearer begins to lose balance, and sending a signal to a cuff worn round the calf. The cuff vibrates in a specific direction to tell the wearer which way they are leaning, allowing them to correct their balance and prevent the fall.

Is showcasing these new ideas an entirely good idea?

Of course it’s vital for a small company with a big idea to get the oxygen of publicity as soon and as effectively as possible, even though there is the attendant risk that they get “taken out” (ie acquired) at what might look like a good time for the company, but in a way that often ends in disappointment as the big fish fails to commercialise the technology.  David Gill had a few words on this subject too;  “All too often we see Cambridge technology business reach a certain size and then be acquired by overseas interests. If stronger links were brokered with mid-sized businesses, these technology companies could provide a powerhouse of innovation and strengthen the competitiveness of UK plc.”

At medlatest we believe one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare providers and governments alike in their quest for affordable healthcare is the identification and adoption of brilliant new ideas.  The paradox is that small companies find it incredibly difficult to reach the clinical community to the extent necessary for that community to pull through these new ideas. Indeed this is part of our raison d’être, sitting as we do between technologists and clinicians and trying to provide a communication medium to tickle the fancy of both.  An event like Meerkats and Avatars is a very different vehicle but with essentially the same goal, for which we applaud it.

Source: Holdsworth Associates, medlatest staff