Shameem Sampath is an internationally renowned knee surgeon and entrepreneur. With growing support from Lancaster’s new cross-university health innovation initiative - fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), his business is realising the potential of mobile technology and ‘gamification’ in the refocusing and personalising of modern medicine.
At the age of 17 in Trinidad and Tobago, Shameem was aiming to be a nuclear physicist when he got polio. Out of school, bed-bound and facing multiple operations, he set his sights instead on becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. “Since then I’ve seen things from the point of view of the patient,” he says. “I ask: How is this going to help them?”
Mr Sampath retained his early passion for mathematics and computing and integrated this into his private practice - Bluespot the Knee Clinic in Lytham St Annes, which offered the greater accuracy of computer aided surgery. Yet he still felt he lacked information about - and control over - the activities of his patients before and after operations, which he explains is vital.
“Osteoarthritic patients who exercise have shown a decrease in pain and increase in function. Many may never need surgery, and those who do lie in bed for a shorter time, which can seriously reduce the incidence of major complications.” Yet the alarming statistic is that 70 percent of people do not stick with their rehab. Given the problems of an ageing population and the shortfall in physiotherapists, this is clearly unsustainable.
15 years ago, Mr Sampath came up with an idea that would help, but he had to wait for smartphone technology to make it practical. At last he could move forward: first by developing Knee Tracker, which reminds patients how to do their exercise, monitors performance and, crucially, motivates them to play a game which is the exercise itself.
With the complex Knee Tracker concept still at prototype stage, he also created a free Augmented Reality app, called Quads AR, for people who want to strengthen their legs but don’t yet require an operation. From the viewpoint of his 17 year-old self, he knew he needed to improve its functionality and user experience, so he started looking for help.
Growth Lancashire put him in touch with the UNITEplus team at Lancaster University, who arranged for a student to do some market research. This, he says, is going to be key to determining the future direction of both the Knee Tracker and Quads AR app. UNITEplus also introduced him to the full range of business support available through the University and the Healthcare Business Connect Lancashire programme, which has included commercialisation mentoring and workshops on Intellectual Property and funding.
As the University builds towards its world-class Health Innovation Campus, Lancashire businesses are able to work with dedicated teams including the School of Computing and Communications. Through Lancaster University’s Health Innovation Programme he was introduced to a team of analyst developers at the University’s InfoLab21 R&D space, who are currently working on a project to upgrade the Quads AR coding and user experience, with full funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
Overall, Mr Sampath says he has been very impressed by the way the University’s burgeoning Health Innovation Campus initiative is liberating fresh thinking: “When you’re interested in ideas, you listen to everybody because you know you don’t have all the answers yourself – it’s the same feeling I got at Oxford and Harvard when I was there.”
“I’ve never worked in an institution as helpful as Lancaster University,” he adds. “When you invent something on your own, everything is an uphill struggle, but from the first time I came here, it has been so easy!”
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