Prof invents first ever objective brain function assessment tool

New KINARM device could revolutionize the way brain injuries are observed, inventor says

New technology developed by a Queen’s neuroscientist could change the way brain injuries are assessed.

Professor of anatomy and cell biology Stephen Scott is the inventor of the device called KINARM (Kinesiological Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movements).

The device is the only objective tool for assessing brain function.

Scott said the tool can be used to study the sensory, motor and cognitive function of the brain. He said these assessments are currently done by a doctor without the use of technology.

“Clinicians will ask you to touch your finger to your nose and give a score of zero, one or two, two being perfect and one meaning there’s some impairment,” he said. “It’s very coarse … when you get a one, it’s just not clear what’s wrong. Is it strength, is it coordination? What we’re trying to do is create an automated objective tool with much better resolution and objectivity.

“In the long term our goal is to see it like an ultrasound facility or MRI as a standard technology that provides, in this case, a measure of brain function,” he said, adding that he hopes to see the KINARM parallel a blood test, with doctors being able to generate a report detailing function problems. Scott said the tool is attached to a person’s arm and can monitor shoulder and elbow movements. It measures hand and joint motion and the motors allow researchers to apply loads to the limbs wherever they want, he added.

“It has a two-dimensional virtual reality system that allows it to present visual targets, or objects, in the workspace,” he said. “We will put subjects in and they will perform a battery of tasks and automatically give a detailed report of the brain function.”

KINARM was launched at the world’s largest neuroscience conference in San Diego on Nov. 15.

“We’ve been developing the technology for over 10 years,” he said, adding that the launch of the tool in San Diego marks its availability for use by researchers.

Adjustments have been made to make it easier to operate by researchers who do not have expert knowledge of its use.

“Now we’ve made some automated software that provides a package of tasks,” he said. “We also have the analysis tools all automated, so the researcher can just press the button to run a patient and press a second button to get the analysis. You no longer need the special knowledge. We can provide it as a research tool.” Scott said future plans for the device include making it available for use on patients, after it has been assessed by researchers.

“The big thing is a two stage process. The clinical practice is the first step, getting the technology in the hands of scientists, studying diseases … In five years time, the goal is to have it actually be used in regular clinical practice.”

Queen’s University’s PARTEQ Innovations, along with BKIN Technologies, commercialized the device. CEO John Malloy said he has high hopes for KINARM.

“This system has the potential to do for the diagnosis of brain injury what X-rays did for diagnosing muscular and skeletal injuries.”

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