Innovative BioSpine program attracts $2m grant from Insurance Commission

Dr Dinesh Palipana on the Restorative Therapies rehabilitation bike, watching his 'digital twin' model on screen

Griffith has secured a $2M grant from the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC) for BioSpine: the Personalised Digital Twin for Thought-driven Electromechanical Assistive Neurorehabilitation Devices program.

This incredibly exciting project has the potential to completely transform the way spinal injury patients are rehabilitated and has application for a range of other forms of rehab as well.

Imagine using your mind to drive movement in your muscles despite previously insurmountable obstacles like quadriplegia — Dr Dinesh Palipana

Dr Dinesh Palipana and research partner Dr Claudio Pizzolato

The state’s first quadriplegic medical graduate, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, now a lecturer at Griffith School of Medicine, a Research Fellow at Menzies Health Institute and a junior doctor at Gold Coast University Hospital, will lead the BioSpine research team along with Dr Claudio Pizzolato.

“BioSpine puts together some of the most promising advances in human history for spinal cord injury,” he explained.

“We are using thought control, electrical simulation, and drug therapy in an attempt to restore function in paralysis.”

Vice Chancellor Professor Carolyn Evans launching the Biospine program at Griffith’s ADaPT building on Gold Coast campus

Griffith Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans welcomed the generous support from MAIC and said it would enable a transformative research opportunity.

“Rehabilitation for spinal cord injury has traditionally been quite slow and limited, and even with recent advances in robotic rehabilitation equipment has not been personalised to the patient or combined with thought control,” Professor Evans said.

“MAIC’s commitment to this world-leading research is in addition to previous financial support for promising research into a regenerative medicine treatment for the injured spinal cord through stem cell transplantation. Funding for both innovative initiatives will help cement the university’s reputation in spinal cord injury research.”

Dr Claudio Pizzolato said the research was inspired by work underway in Europe and the USA.

“Our approach involves collaborating with spinal cord injury patients, clinicians, researchers, and engineers from the beginning in order to create a technology that works and is easy to use in clinics and hospitals,” he said.

“The MAIC funding is an incredible opportunity to create disruptive technologies that have the potential to change people’s lives.”

Professor David Lloyd

Professor David Lloyd, a biomechanical engineer who co-developed Griffith University’s Advanced Design and Prototype Technologies Institute (ADaPT), said the pair was perfectly placed to lead the program.

“Claudio and Dinesh represent the future in developing innovative technologies using Brain-Computer-Interfaces and Human-Machine-Interfaces for assistive devices for neurorehabilitation,” said Professor Lloyd.

“Claudio and Dinesh represent only a few people in the world able to undertake this R&D.

MAIC Insurance Commissioner Neil Singleton

“The MAIC funding ensures the retention of their incredible talent at Griffith, in Queensland and Australia.

“It will create disruptive medical technologies that will improve health outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and invest in new Australian industry and jobs.”

With industry and philanthropic support now locked in, a team of 15 researchers primarily from Griffith and including collaborators from Harvard and the University of Sydney will now push ahead to the next exciting step in a spinal injury cure.

Dr Palipana and Dr Pizzolato have commenced patent processing with hopes that BioSpine will be commercially available in six to eight years.

The Biospine project is a key Griffith University led initiative which is anticipated will help position the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct (GCHKP) as a global leader in spinal injury rehabilitation.

Research will be carried out at ADaPT 1.0 with ADaPT 2.0 to be built within the GCHKP by 2022.

The flagship Biospine program is one of many being pursued by Professor’s Lloyd’s team within an international group of more than 90 collaborators developing next-generation intelligent approaches to training, treatment, surgery planning and rehabilitation, addressing neuromusculoskeletal (neurological and orthopaedic) and vascular (cardio and neuro vascular) conditions.