Innovation fund supports video game to help stroke patients regain movement

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 18 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3524
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

A video game designed to rehabilitate stroke patients, gene therapy for a form of blindness, and an implantable device to monitor pulmonary hypertension are some of the projects being supported by the Health Innovation Challenge Fund.

The fund was set up by the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust in 2009 to stimulate the development of products and interventions for possible use in the NHS.1 So far around £55m (€68m; $87m) has been allocated, and there are 25 projects at various stages of development.

Speaking at a press conference in London on 16 May, Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said, “We are targeting areas of poorly met or unmet need. The fund is focusing on projects that will come to patients within three to five years and wouldn’t classically get research funding.”

The video game project is being led by Janet Eyre, professor of paediatric neuroscience at Newcastle University. She and her team have developed an action video game using next generation motion controllers that can track movement extremely accurately. The actions are designed to help patients relearn to use their weak arm and hand after a stroke.

The first games that have been developed are based on circus skills such as juggling, flying the trapeze, and plate spinning. The movements gradually build up the skill and strength of the patient and will help them carry out everyday activities such as doing up a zip, unscrewing a jar, or fastening shoe laces. “The games are fun, and patients using them forget it is therapy and are highly motivated to continue,” commented Eyre.

The project has received a £1.5m award from the fund to allow further development so that therapists will be able to monitor patients’ progress. Eyre said: “Eighty per cent of patients who have had a stroke learn to walk, but only 20% recover full use of their affected arm and hand.” She added: “The brain can relearn control of the weak arm, but it needs frequent therapy over many months, and there are not enough therapists to provide this on a one to one basis.”

Eyre has set up a company called Limbs Alive to produce the first games with a professional game studio. In the future they hope to use the same principles to develop games to assist therapy in other conditions such as cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

Limbs Alive: Video games aid stroke recovery

A team of researchers at Imperial College London is also being supported by the fund to develop an implantable blood pressure monitoring device that can be used to improve the care of patients with heart failure. A tiny pressure sensor will be placed inside the pulmonary artery and will continually monitor blood pressure and transmit the information to an NHS computer through mobile phone technology.

Chris McLeod, who is leading the project, said, “At the moment the only way to monitor pressure in the blood vessels of the lung is by catheter, which requires hospitalisation, can only be done infrequently, and carries some risk of infection.”

The team is currently investigating the manufacture of reproducible devices and will then go on to test them in animal models. They hope to start testing in patients by early 2014.

The fund has also supported the world’s first gene therapy trial to treat a hereditary form of blindness called choroideraemia. The team has developed a technique that uses a viral vector to carry the REP1 gene into the eye of the patient. A study involving 12 patients is ongoing, with the patients followed for two years to monitor improvements in their eyesight.

One of the leaders of the trial, Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at Oxford University, said that the early results look extremely promising, with no reported adverse effects. “One single injection has the potential to correct the problem for a patient’s lifetime. We are currently leading the world on this,” he said.

The Health Innovation Challenge Fund is inviting proposals across five areas of research: clinical applications of genetics; early detection and diagnosis of chronic diseases; minimising the effects of trauma and serious injury; informing clinical management through software based analysis of complex datasets; and repurposing of drugs and medical devices.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3524


  • More information and application forms for repurposing of medicines and medical devices are available from


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