Company of the Month: Strolll
Strolll is a digital therapeutics (DTx) company based in London, developing software using augmented reality (AR) glasses to help people with Parkinson’s overcome mobility problems.
For people with Parkinson’s, reduced walking ability, balance and falls are often one of the most challenging symptoms. They can worsen as the disease progresses, because the part of the brain that controls automatic movement (like walking) is degenerating. Strolll’s software for AR glasses provides people with visual or auditory stimuli that can enable a person with Parkinson’s to detour that part of the brain and engage other brain areas that can control movement but are unaffected by the disease, thus alleviating several debilitating motor symptoms.
April is Parkinson’s awareness month and we spoke to Strolll’s CEO and Co-Founder Jorgen Ellis about the company’s deep commitment to the development of this potentially life-changing technology.
Founded on personal experience
Strolll began in 2018 after Co-Founder and Creative Director Thomas Finn observed his father’s experience of vascular parkinsonism, through which he lost his ability to walk. At a physiotherapy appointment, Tom and his Dad first heard that coloured lines on the floor can be really helpful for people with Parkinson’s in regaining mobility.
Fascinated, they went home and Tom laid out coloured exercise bands on the kitchen floor.
“Tom said to his Dad, ‘Try to step over these lines’. His Dad dropped his walking stick and started strolling across the lines. Tom captured all this on camera, and it features in the videos on our website.”
It was a magical moment and it started Tom thinking about how to build on the concept of the coloured lines. A friend was connected to the tech start-up ecosystem in London and together they set out to use AR glasses to bring the idea to life.
The founders created an early prototype, based on the Microsoft HoloLens model. Soon afterwards, in 2019, they received a grant of £140,000 from AR company Magic Leap which was an important catalyst for the company.
Growing a business with passion at its heart
Jorgen also has a personal connection to the business.
“My grandfather had Parkinson’s, which is why I joined Strolll. A lot of the team have a connection to Parkinson’s in some way. When I saw Tom’s video, my first thought was ‘Why did no-one tell me about this?’ I would have painted lines everywhere my grandfather wanted to go.”
Jorgen credits these personal experiences as core to the company’s strength.
“We’re a really diverse set of people, all from different backgrounds with different strengths, but we have this shared and aligned purpose of trying to improve mobility for people with Parkinson’s which sits at the centre of our company culture. It’s really powerful”
As the work at Strolll evolved, it became clear that coloured lines work for some people but not everyone. For some, multicoloured lines work, for others, it’s red lines, 3D obstacles, circles or audio. These are examples of ‘cueing’, a well-known concept in Parkinson’s physiotherapy, but one which had been limited in its use.
“You have to personalise it to every person and it’s hard to provide these different methods in one device. But with AR technology, we had the ability to do all these different types and shapes, and audio cueing in one device.”
Developing products that make a difference
Using the software that Strolll has developed, the AR glasses are at an early stage, but should be more widely available in early 2023. The company has ongoing partnerships with Magic Leap, Microsoft and others, including partners in academia and non-profits.
This year, Strolll is working on two major projects, the first being a second-stage clinical study starting in September with VU University in Amsterdam. The second project is a pilot with the NHS in Leeds, which recently purchased 58 devices. The glasses will be deployed in the Parkinson’s centre to trial providing remote physiotherapy for people experiencing symptoms related to walking impairment, balance and falls.
Physiotherapy usually involves six to twelve weeks of clinic sessions and then the patient is given exercises to continue at home. Continuing that programme at home can be really difficult for someone who already struggles with movement, and they don’t have the facilities or tools for cueing at home that they can use in a clinic.
In the pilot project, patients will use the device in clinic with a therapist and be given a loan device to take home. They will continue physiotherapy and exercise training to increase compliance and dosage, enabling movement training at home, using the glasses and monitored remotely by the clinician.
“It saves the NHS time, but it also increases the intervention time for the patient about sevenfold, without impacting on cost. There’s so much potential in terms of improving patient experience, and in productivity and cost-savings for the NHS. Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world and you can’t just keep adding more clinical therapists. This is about providing a tool to clinicians so they can scale the services they are already providing and giving people with Parkinson’s powerful tools that give them back some control over their own treatment and future.”
Learning from the MedCity community
Jorgen sees the importance of the MedCity community, particularly to early-stage start-ups. His background was not in medical devices – rather, he started a home services business at 17 and quickly grew it to 140 franchises – and there has been a lot to learn about the regulatory and clinical framework. While having a different perspective has often been helpful in finding unique pathways, the community has been a useful support.
“In the early stages, it can be quite a lonely place and in life sciences and medical devices, compared to any other start-up business, what you have to do in the early stages is huge. MedCity is incredibly helpful for providing a platform for support, advice, and learning, but it’s also about having this ecosystem that you can connect into and lean on when you need it.”
Strolll has raised money through MedCity in its investment round, had advice on their pitch, and recently won a £30,000 grant for regulatory affairs which Jorgen says he would not have known about if it wasn’t for the MedCity platform.
Looking to the future
Strolll is currently focused on developing products in two directions. At its heart is the desire to develop glasses with the cueing software that someone with Parkinson’s who experiences walking or balance impairments can wear all day, every day. The glasses would detect when and where cueing is needed to assist walking and provide a cue, such as a line to step over or an audio rhythm to step to which will alleviate motor symptoms in real time, anywhere they’re needed. That could dramatically change mobility for people with Parkinson’s.
At the same time, the pilot project with NHS Leeds hints at another aspect of their work. The software they are developing could drive a shift in the way that physiotherapy is delivered for people with neurological disorders.
“In the long term, Strolll will be the driver of a step change in neuro-physiotherapy globally, for Parkinson’s but also for stroke and other conditions where there are gait and balance factors. Therapists and patients will become superhuman with Strolll’s software.”
Find out more
More about Strolll: Visit www.strolll.co
Join MedCity Community: If you’re part of a life science SME and are interested in becoming part of the online MedCity Community platform mentioned by Jorgen, you can register your interest via our engagement form. Membership is free.