Unhindr are developing the world’s first AI adjusted prosthetic liner for use in the prevention of pressure sores, blisters and rubbing. As the name suggests, its goal is to help amputees live their life how they want and without any discomfort from their prostheses.

Part of the MedTech SuperConnector, in which MedCity is a partner, Unhindr was recently the recipient of a €612,000 award from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT Health).

Here, CEO and co-founder, Uğur Tanriverdi talks about the hope that is embodied in Unhindr, the opportunities that have helped the company progress and the philosophical outlook he takes to the path of growth.

Right time, right place, right connection

The idea behind Unhindr came from a meeting between Tanriverdi and Dr Firat Güder, an expert in robotics and sensors who, at the time, had recently transferred from Harvard to Imperial College London. Tanriverdi was applying for his PhD and Güder was looking for students in his new laboratory.

“Firat had identified that this inability of lower limb prostheses to adapt to uneven shapes was a major problem and would be a promising avenue to research,” says Tanriverdi. “So I started investigating the area and I found that there were a large number of amputees experiencing pain and discomfort from their prostheses.”

“I then began to think more deeply about the problem and came up with a slightly different approach: since the material used in prosthetic liners is the same as that used in soft robotics then why not combine the two so that prosthetic liners can work with robotics to become adaptable? This was the initial idea behind Unhindr and, since then, we have been through several design iterations to establish how we can embed something very dynamic into a wearable liner that uses AI to learn the wearer’s comfort settings and automatically adapts to them throughout the day.”

MedTech SuperConnector and EIT Health award

The market analysis and the business plan for Unhindr was done as part of Tanriverdi’s Masters in Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship at Imperial College London that he completed before embarking on his PhD. In 2018 he became part of the first cohort of the MedTech SuperConnector which provides early career researchers with access to funds and resources to uncover insights into the commercial viability of their technology.

“When I was applying for the MedTech SuperConnector there were three things I had in mind: recognition, networking and funding. I believe that achievement in the entrepreneurial world is all about networking and the MedTech SuperConnector was fantastic at introducing me to people in my field who were further down the line and could offer valuable advice. It really did help in the development of the company.”

Once part of the MedTech SuperConnector, Tanriverdi brought Guglielmo Senesi into the team to provide further expertise on the robotic side of the product development as well as a natural design flair to help marketing the company.

“The core team is my dream come true and I see them not only as business partners but as friends,” says Tanriverdi. “When we go through stressful times we go through them together, we find solutions together and we also laugh together. I think that’s very important.”

Based on the learning and opportunity provided by the MedTech SuperConnector, Unhindr applied for the EIT Health awards to take them to their next stage of development. “This is the most recent and biggest milestone we have achieved so far,” says Tanriverdi. “And it’s much more than money. The award will allow us to clinically validate Unhindr and to develop the business both in the UK and Europe. EIT Health has a wonderfully structured network that can provide expertise from leading companies. In our consortium GE Healthcare will be providing input for AI development and market research whilst Cap Digital, one of the largest digital healthcare clusters in Europe, are making sure our business model is tailored for each European country. It will be an intense 18 months.”

Clinical trials and beyond

The EIT Health award will fund the development of the prototype for the first clinical trial, the recruitment of participants for the trial and the resources to analyse the data. The company plans to have Joseph Shalhoub as its clinical advisor,  a consultant surgeon based at Charing Cross Hospital and clinical senior lecturer at the Department of Cancer and Surgery, Imperial College London. “The insight from Mr Shalhoub will help ensure we have the right outcome measures and clinical set-ups, as well as provide support on recruiting the amputee cohort and working with physiotherapists and prosthetists,” says Tanriverdi.

“Before this trial I plan to make sure the prototypes have been tested already by amputees so it really is a user-designed process. I also want to build a community of ambassadors to encourage others to be part of the development of Unhindr.”

The trial will most likely take place at Charing Cross Hospital in the UK that has a specialist orthotics and prosthetics team and also an EU location, most likely in the Netherlands or France.

Opportunities in Greater South East

Unhindr now has a base at the I-HUB at White City alongside continuing access to labs in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. The company is clearly making the most of its location in London and the Greater South East and Tanriverdi recognises the the value of being part of the life sciences ecosystem here.

“London is really amazing because there is so much happening in life sciences right now,” he says . “We’ve met so many different startups and heard about all the innovations that are being developed in this moment and it’s a privilege to be part of that. The start-up community in London is so full of opportunities and if you need information, expertise or connections there is always someone to talk to.”

Lessons learnt and philosophy

Unhindr is still a young company. The project started in May 2016 and the company was incorporated in October 2018 and it has already achieved some major funding milestones and learnt some lessons along the way.

“I don’t have any major regrets in how we have developed so far,” says Tanriverdi. “This doesn’t mean we haven’t gone through some difficult times but I discovered that, by reframing rejections as lessons, then everything became more positive. You never lose. You either win or learn a lesson about how not to do something. That way your path is the always the real one rather than one you could have taken.”

“I think generally the company vision reflects the Unhindr device itself: we are positive, dynamic and full of inspiration. The people we want to help are hopeful and positive so our company vision, name and logo are aligned with that.”

The MedTech SuperConnector is a consortium of 8 dynamic HEIs set up and designed to facilitate the early stage development of innovative medical technologies, from devices, diagnostics, and digital healthcare solutions.

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