Public Release:  €3.5m to improve diagnosis of balance disorders

University College London

GPs and other doctors will be equipped with a new, online information system to help diagnose and treat a range of balance disorders, thanks to €3.5m European Union funding for EMBalance. This three-year project will be coordinated by UCL and involve researchers from ten different partners, spread across seven European countries.

Balance disorders (e.g. vertigo, Ménière's Disease, migraine-related dizziness etc.) affect more than a third of the UK population at some point in their lives and falls are the most common cause of accidental death in those aged 75+. However, diagnosis of balance disorders is rarely straightforward and can often take months, or even years.

The human balance control system is incredibly complex, relying on the brain to synthesise a range of information from the eyes, the joints/muscles, and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation). This complexity, coupled with the fact that there are few balance disorder specialists in the primary and secondary healthcare systems, means that receiving a correct diagnosis can be a long, drawn-out process for patients.

"Balance is crucial for unimpaired mobility," says Dr Doris-Eva Bamiou, primary investigator for the EMBalance project at the UCL Ear Institute. "When balance deteriorates it hampers people's independence and can often lead to falls and injuries, especially in the elderly.

"In addition to the serious risk of injury, there is also a large socioeconomic cost associated with these conditions," continues Dr Bamiou. "The majority of people with chronic balance disorders experience a range of psychological disorders. Older adults in particular may become isolated, while a quarter of working age adults affected by balance disorders will take time off work while they wait to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.

"Through EMBalance we aim to produce a computer-based information system that will support clinical decision-making. This should enable accurate and early diagnosis of balance disorders and ensure patients receive a prompt and efficient treatment plan."

Over the next sixteen months the EMBalance team will produce a database of balance-related information which will be combined with computerised balance models to produce a patient-specific tool capable of accurately simulating an individual's complex physiological balance system.

Clinical trials are expected to begin in Spring 2015 at University College London Hospitals and at clinical sites in Belgium, Germany and Greece. The trials will assess the effectiveness of the EMBalance tool in producing the correct diagnosis and management plan by non-experts.

At the end of the three year project, the EMBalance system will be made available over the internet and will equip non-experts with a powerful diagnostic tool to help identify and treat balance disorders.

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Notes to editors

Contacts:

To speak to a UCL Press Officer, contact David Weston on +44 (0) 203 108 3844 (out of hours 07917 271 364) or d.weston@ucl.ac.uk

EMBalance website:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/embalance

Funding:

The EMBalance project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 610454.

Partners:

The EMBalance project will involve four clinical academic institution partners across Europe:

  • UCL (University College London) is the project coordinator, dissemination manager and clinical trial lead partner.
  • Universitaetsklinikum Freiburg, Germany, provides existing motion capture data of patients suffering from stance and gait disorders and model-based interpretations of several balancing problems in various diseases. It utilises a humanoid robot (PostuRob) to provide model tests of human normal and abnormal balancing and participates in the clinical validation activities and small scale trials.
  • The National & Kapodistrian University of Athens leads the small scale trials for diagnosis, follow up actions and treatment planning and will participate in clinical proof of concept/clinical validation activities, user requirements elicitation and retrospective data collection.
  • Antwerp University Research Center for Equilibrium and Aerospace will contribute to the project with existing data from aerospace and aeronautics of over 300. It will lead towards the proof of concept and the verification of the EMBalance system in microgravity conditions using aerospace data.

The EMBalance project will involve six technical partners across Europe:

  • Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS) in Greece leads the development of the advanced Decision Support System (DSS), incorporating validated multi-scale and patient-specific balance models, and undertakes the technical management of the project.
  • Technische Universiteit Delft will lead the extension of the modelling activities of the balance system in order to deliver the multi-scale and patient-specific EMBalance model and will participate in the technical validation and verification of the model.
  • City University London will lead the human-computer interaction design of the EMBalance platform and participate in the platform development and system integration, the decision support system development, and the proof of concept and clinical evaluation of the platform from a usability perspective. It will also undertake responsibility for the overall quality management of the project.
  • Universiteit Twente, Holland, contributes to the clinical validation of the EMBalance clinical partners by comparing model responses with human responses in well-defined patient categories.
  • Engineering Ingegneria Informatica S.p.A., Italy, will be involved in the design, architecture and management of the integrated platform.
  • BioIRC Ltd, Bioengineering R&D Center, Kragujevac (Serbia) will develop a computer model of the semi-circular canal and will develop EMBalance platform integration with 3D visualisation tool to assist clinicians in determining how different pathologies may affect the dynamic behaviour of the semi-circular canal model.

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