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Success Stories: Spinoffs and Innovative Products

Our busy labs and workshops are feeding a pipeline of new commercial products, including patient lifting devices and an array of rehabilitation and home care tools.


Image of commercialization handyAudit More than 100 hospital sites in Canada and around the world are now using HandyAudit, an electronic tool developed by Toronto Rehab to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections. Every year in Canada, about 8,000 patients die from infections they acquire while in hospital. Our easy-to-use HandyAudit system helps hand hygiene auditors efficiently monitor and report hand hygiene compliance rates.

The traditional paper-based observation system requires one auditor to simultaneously monitor the hand washing practices of several health-care workers at once and to record each of their hand washing actions. This can be a complicated task and relies on subjective judgments. “The potential for error is high,” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, who developed HandyAudit with Dr. César Márquez Chin and Michael Tsang.

With HandyAudit, auditors can use touch screen technology to simply input actions into a personal digital assistant (PDA). Software analyzes these actions and calculates compliance rates. “This is a powerful tool that allows institutions to be more effective in monitoring how they are doing, in introducing corrective actions when they need to and in targeting educational programs,” says Dr. Fernie.

A Toronto Rehab start-up company, HandyMetrics Corporation, is steadily advancing sales of HandyAudit. Find out more at


Image of commercialization SoleSensorRoughly 1 in 3 people age 65 or older falls at least once a year. These falls result in the vast majority of hip fractures, which are a leading cause of death and disability among older people.

Some falls are related to something that happens with age: a loss of sensation in the soles of the feet that can throw people off balance. A special new footwear insole, called SoleSensor™, is designed to enhance balance by heightening sole sensation. SoleSensor has a raised ridge that surrounds the perimeter of the foot, stopping just short of the large toe, to increase “sensory perception.” “If you’re swaying back and forth, the raised edge will apply pressure to the side of your foot, telling you subconsciously that you’re falling, so that you can adjust your body movements,” says Dr. Stephen Perry, a Toronto Rehab adjunct scientist based at Wilfrid Laurier University. Published research shows that older adults who wore SoleSensor in winter had half the number of falls.

Now on the market, SoleSensor grew out of Dr. Perry’s PhD thesis. Co-inventors are Toronto Rehab senior scientists Drs. Brian Maki, William McIlroy and Geoff Fernie. For more information, see


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common yet underdiagnosed condition linked to a range of serious problems, from accidents caused by daytime drowsiness to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Currently, people must spend a night in a sleep lab to be tested for sleep apnea. Long wait lists are common.

Now, our scientists have come up with an easier, less costly way to detect OSA. Called ApneaDx™, it’s a portable detection device that analyzes breathing sounds while a person sleeps at home.

Recent tests show the device is remarkably accurate, says Dr. Hisham Alshaer, a University of Toronto PhD candidate who is collaborating with Toronto Rehab senior scientists Drs. Douglas Bradley and Geoff Fernie to develop ApneaDx. The device is lightweight and wireless – key features developed by a Toronto Rehab engineer and an industrial designer.

A spinoff company called ApneaDx, owned by Toronto Rehab and MaRS Innovation, has been launched to commercialize the detection device. Partners include the Ontario Centres of Excellence and Johnson and Johnson Inc. There is also support from MaRS EXCITE and FedDev Ontario. ApneaDx should be available in 2013, says Dr. Ashaer.

For more information, watch our video.

Stimulation Therapy

Image of commercialization electrostimulationA Toronto Rehab-University of Toronto startup company called Simple Systems is commercializing a stimulator used to reawaken paralyzed muscles. The device was developed by senior scientist Dr. Milos R. Popovic and colleagues to help people paralyzed from stroke and spinal cord injury to regain the ability to reach, grasp and walk. Functional electrical stimulation (FES) uses low-intensity electrical pulses, generated by a pocket-sized stimulator.

Unlike permanent FES systems, the one designed by Dr. Popovic is for short-term treatment. The therapist uses the stimulator to make muscles move in a patient’s limb. The idea is that, after many repetitions, the nervous system can “relearn” the motion and eventually activate the muscles on its own, without the device.

In a recent study, Dr. Popovic and colleagues reported that FES “significantly” reduced disability and improved grasping in people with incomplete spinal cord injuries, beyond the effects of standard therapy. “This has real implications for people’s quality of life and independence,” says Dr. Popovic.  

The team is working to put its approach into widespread use in hospitals, physiotherapy clinics and people’s homes. In 2012, Simple Systems was awarded the TiE Quest 2012, which attracted entries from more than 225 entrepreneurs in Canada and the U.S. The company also won a TiE Quest for Best Intellectual Property in 2012.

For more information, watch our video.