Vertigenius: Finding the right balance with a sensor and app

13 May 2024

Founder and chief scientific officer Dr Dara Meldrum. Image: Vertigenius

Vestibular physiotherapist Dr Dara Meldrum is the brain behind Vertigenius, a platform used by more than 1,000 patients in Ireland to treat vertigo remotely.

In the early days of her research into balance and dizziness, Dr Dara Meldrum looked at technologies such as the Nintendo Wii Fit Plus to see if it could help ease some vertigo symptoms faced by patients. But soon, she recognised that the potential of off-the-shelf tech in treating the specific requirements of conditions such as vertigo was limited.

Vertigo is a common symptom of an underlying condition that gives a patient the sensation that everything around them is spinning. This condition is most often an inner ear problem that affects a person’s balance. In the US, for example, nearly four in 10 adults experience vertigo at some point in their life, according to the University of California San Francisco.

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Most patients recover after seeing a vestibular therapist and performing prescribed exercises at home. However, a shortage of experts in the area often delays treatment, sometimes making it inaccessible. The complexity of exercises can also make treatment difficult.

“Patients often encounter difficulties in accurately executing exercises, leading to frequent errors or non-compliance with their prescribed programs,” Meldrum tells in an interview. “There is also a lack of capacity as well as manual, labour-intensive processes for clinicians leading to long waiting lists.”

With this in mind, Meldrum, a specialised vestibular physiotherapist with more than 25 years of experience, decided to build her own tech solution to the problem.

How does it work?

An associate professor at Trinity College Dublin and former lecturer at the RSCI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, she tapped into her extensive research experience to found Vertigenius, a health-tech company that has developed a sensor and app to monitor the treatment of vertigo at home.

“Vertigenius is an easy-to-use platform that lets clinicians design, prescribe and deploy custom exercises in a clinician portal,” Meldrum explains. “Patients have access to a smartphone app which digitally delivers, measures and tracks vestibular rehabilitation.”

The app is connected to a wearable head sensor that connects with the patient’s phone through Bluetooth. Using what Meldrum calls inertial motion unit technology, the sensor measures and tracks the frequency, velocity and amplitude of head movement.

The device worn behind the ear is small, lightweight and inobtrusive. The app provides corrective feedback to the patient when they are doing their prescribed exercises.

“The data on head movement is combined with other relevant patient data which are then transmitted back to the clinician portal,” Meldrum explains. “This provides clinician oversight of exercise performance and effects, and allows clinicians to update or renew the exercise prescription as needed, and remotely if necessary.”

Eyes on the UK and US

Vertigenius, which spun out of Trinity College Dublin, hopes that this wearable and software combination can help therapists treat vertigo more effectively, reduce patient visits and bring down the lengthy waiting times.

“Worldwide, patients who have been diagnosed with vertigo can face months-long waiting lists or an inability to get access to treatment at all,” CEO Mark Barry said recently.

“Research has shown that patients with vertigo are 12 times more likely to have a fall, while 63pc of them lose workdays and 50pc suffer from anxiety. Our mission is to enable early access to high-quality care for vertigo patients, which will improve the lives of millions of people.”

Currently used by more than 1,000 patients in Ireland, Vertigenius hopes to expand into the UK this year and the US early next year. It was one of the top five finalists at a Medtech Innovator pitching event held in Dublin two years ago.

Just last week, the Dublin-based company announced a raise of more than €2.1m in an oversubscribed seed funding round led by Atlantic Bridge. The investment will help it create 10 new jobs to add to its growing team that now includes Damien Daly (formerly of Glofox) as chief technology officer and Patrick Schoeman (formerly of Aligner Dental Academy) as chief commercial officer.

“Vertigenius is CE-marked, and we have also completed our ISO certification, which is a global standard for quality management of medical devices,” Meldrum says. “Our customer acquisition in the UK is currently underway and we are actively planning entry into the US market.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic