The innovation that revolutionises education
Rehabilitating limbs in children and adolescents, fighting against child osteosarcoma and making implants to replace sick bones will be easier from now on thanks to three projects that are being developed in Spain. The three have in common that they were born out of the work of young entrepreneurs under thirty years of age.
The first of them is a project from the work of a young researcher: a robot that rehabilitates and at the same time plays with children. The engineers specialised in artificial intelligence, José Carlos Pulido and José Carlos González, are responsible for the idea and for the manufacture of the robot Nao to rehabilitate children with cerebral paralysis or obstetric brachial paralysis caused at birth.
The robot is conceived for children from 4 to 12 years of age and is intended to help them to recover the mobility of their upper limbs. In an interview with the journalist Marta Yoldi, José Carlos Pulido explained that Nao “is a coach that starts the exercises that the patient has to do and guides them”, turning the therapy into a game whenever necessary. Those who design the stimulation and rehabilitation exercises are qualified therapists, who use graphic interfaces to insert the treatment in the robot, which performs the instructions received before the children.
The physiotherapist who worked Nao in the pilot experiences at the Hospital Virgen del Rocío in Seville, Álvaro Dueñas, says that “Nao’s camera picks up the patient, sees their posture and depending what it sees, tells them what they have to do”. All of the sessions are recorded in whole by the therapist. Dueñas adds, “Nao also dances, sings, does tai chi and anything for the child to interact with it”.
A project by Santander Yuzz
The project arose in the National Research Plan thanks to a consortium formed by the University of Extremadura, the University of Malaga and the Carlos III University of Madrid. Its creators, Pulido and González, presented later it at the Yuzz Jóvenes con ideas Santander Entrepreneuring Programme promoted by the Banco Santander through its universities team, with the coordination of the Santander Entrepreneuring International Centre (CISE). They won third prize.
The mentioned programme, in which 1,250 young people took part in 2017, selects the most innovative and disruptive business ideas in areas such as health, robotics, Big Data, education and new technologies; ideas to contribute to the progress of people, companies and society. Over a five-month period, the selected youngsters receive training, support and mentoring from front-line advisers, to then go on to a phase in which only the best 52 travel to Silicon Valley, in California, the top-class cradle of entrepreneuring. When they get back, they are awaited in the grand finale, where the three yearly winners are revealed.
As for the robot Nao, his creators took the project one stage further; they put it into practice. The pilot plan was carried out at the Hospital Virgen del Rocío in Seville for four months with eight children, once a week. Before taking it to the hospital, the apparatus was tested with 120 healthy children.
"Start-up that is designed to make nanoparticles with antitumoral drugs, a very small drug for children who suffer from osteosarcoma or bone cancer"
Nanoparticles to fight tumours
The second project under development that is worth mentioning is Nanocore Biotech. Its author, Yolanda González, is pH student at the Pharmacy Faculty of the University of Navarre. The start-up is designed to make nanoparticles with antitumoural drugs, a very small pharmaceutical for children suffering from osteosarcoma or cancer of the bones.
Its great novelty “is that it avoids toxicity and healthy organs”, explain sources of the University of Navarre. The medicine acts directly on the tumour, unlike present chemotherapy which has the undesired effect of failing to discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells. The nanocapsules are also administered orally instead of by vein, so the treatment can be given at home.
The idea by Yolanda González, who was accompanied in her research by the PhD Edurne Imbuluzqueta, came out on top last year in the eighth edition of the Santander Yuzz Programme. Nanocore Biotech is currently being completed and its author is receiving training to make it a clinical reality in the non-distant future.
More affordable 3D bones
Children affected by bone cancer are also the target of Iridium Hitech. Its creator, Javier González, is a materials engineer who has developed 3-D printing of bone implants to replace damaged bones. Up to now, these printouts were made with composite materials, ceramics or metals at a very high cost. Iridium’s technological leap is that “by modifying the machines that only produced polymers and making them bring out composite materials or ceramics, the price has been brought down considerably”, the author argues. The technique is used to print implants containing hydroxyapatite, a mineral present in 70% of human bones. It is thus capable of carrying out bone regeneration and is more suitable for child patients.
Iridium Hitech 3-D scans the whole shape of the bone it is going to replace. González assures that it has managed to combine porosities in ceramic material so that the bone can regenerate, and adds that “it is very difficult to achieve a whole implant with a shape, the normal thing is to work with the material in powder form”. The engineer designed the machine; however, he was helped in his laboratories, his materials and his technologies by the Colloidal Processing Group of the Institute of Ceramic and Glass, which belongs to the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC).
Once the project was “mature”, Javier González went in for the Santander Yuzz Programme. Now he has been selected as a finalist in the category of Disruptive Technology Innovation, an award which will be given in October in collaboration with Indra. At the present time, the engineer is working to make a prototype of Iridium Hitech on a collaboration contract with the Institute of Ceramic and Glass.