Why astronauts wear the smart clothes of this Montreal company

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Jean-François Roy, Hexoskin Chief Technology Officer, at the company’s Montreal offices on July 7, 2021.

Christinne Muschi / The Globe and Mail

The founders of Montreal-based Carré Technologies Inc. decided to use artificial intelligence to improve healthcare for an aging population. The journey took a few unexpected turns, including a foray into advanced wearable technology and even into space.

“When we started the business, it was to automate data processing and see how we could do personalized medicine using AI algorithms,” explains Jean-François Roy, who founded the company in 2006 with Pierre-Alexandre Fournier.

The founders believed that AI could bring some relief to a stretched healthcare system. For example, monitoring patients at home would free up resources and give a better picture of a person’s health.

“It wouldn’t be possible to monitor all the patients at the same time, but using AI it is possible,” says Roy, the company’s chief technology officer.

“We could save a lot of time, we could prevent illnesses and we could keep people at home longer,” adds Mr. Fournier, president and CEO of the company.

The idea was to develop non-invasive sensors that would remotely monitor health parameters such as heart and respiratory activity. This would allow patients and their healthcare providers to measure these biometric indicators outside of the hospital, freeing up valuable healthcare resources and personnel. It would also give a broader view of a patient’s biometrics in their normal environment, such as at home or driving, to mix them up.

“It’s much more interesting to watch when you walk in the street, for example, than when you watch TV, sitting on the sofa,” says Fournier.

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Traditionally, the EKG and other sensors are attached to a patient and tied to intrusive – and expensive – equipment in a clinical environment.

“We thought, well, it’s not natural. It should be as easy as getting dressed in the morning; it should be one of the things you already take with you, ”he says.

It was then that it became a garment – and the smart clothing brands Hexoskin and Astroskin were born.

In 2013, the founders released the first version of their Hexoskin smart shirt equipped with lightweight sensors to primarily monitor cardiac and respiratory activity.

Sadly, Hexoskin may have been ready, but the healthcare industry was not.

“We decided to launch it in an open way, meaning that anyone could use it to collect information and export data, and then see who would adopt it,” explains Fournier.

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Among the early adopters were clinical researchers from around the world, who flocked to Hexoskin to collect data for over 120 scientific papers and more.

The fitted sleeveless tank-style shirt, which has a built-in bra for women, is used in a range of research in fields such as cardiology, behavioral psychology, sleep patterns and fitness, for n to name a few. The sensors weigh less than 90 grams and the data is synchronized with local and remote servers, allowing real-time monitoring by the wearer and remote management and analysis of health data.

In 2011, recognizing that the healthcare system would need to catch up, Carré Technologies bid on a call for proposals from the Canadian Space Agency. Today, its Astroskin platform is carried by astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS). It will also be carried aboard the first commercial space flight expected next year by Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company whose CEO Richard Branson recently made his maiden voyage.

Built on the same principle as Hexoskin, the Astroskin contains many more sensors and is designed for extended distance use.

Kellie Gerardi, a bioastronautics researcher at the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences, will wear Astroskin during this suborbital space flight. The suit will monitor the biological effects of launch, weightlessness, reentry and landing on spaceflight participants.

“I will also be able to see my stats in real time, which is information I can use to adjust my behavior,” says Gerardi.

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She tested the Astroskin in 2018 during parabolic flight campaigns with the National Research Council of Canada, just before the experiment hit the ISS. On its flight next year, the Astroskin will help track the effects of space flight on astronauts.

“My spaceflight will be the first time we can collect data during launch, reentry and landing, so I am delighted to contribute to this new data collection,” she said.

Carré Technologies now has 30 employees, not counting the network of researchers, university research and development partners, the supply chain and distribution partners around the world. Its clients include defense and aerospace agencies, such as the United States Navy Medical Corps, the Australian Army, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, in addition to hundreds of researchers and professionals from health in more than 15 countries.

Mr. Roy discusses heat transfer with Marc Paquin, Vice-President, Strategic Development, in their prototype room.

Christinne Muschi / The Globe and the Mail

It was all a bit surprising for the founders.

“We really started this so that we can prevent acute illnesses and do something about the aging of our population,” Fournier said. “It was the first idea. And then we ended up doing all these crazy things, you know.

Astroskin was worn in uncharted regions of Antarctica and measured the effects of hypoxia at high altitudes during a “lightning” ascent of Mount Everest.

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“We had people in space. We have users who have won gold medals at the Olympics. We worked with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. We have worked with NBA players, ”says Fournier. “I think we’re very creative and have a lot of imagination, but it was just beyond what we could imagine about the technology.”

About five years ago, the technological environment for healthcare began to catch up. Carré Technologies has returned to its original goal of bringing the benefits of AI to improve healthcare outcomes.

The company has developed a new Hexoskin product which is currently under review for approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Ultimately, the goal is to use AI to detect and prevent disease, says Roy.

“What we want and what we are working very hard on is to deploy this for real patients,” says Roy. “With this data, we can really tackle bigger issues that weren’t accessible before. This should unlock some projects that we were waiting for.

An app monitors data, including heart rate, from Hexoskin smart clothing.

Christinne Muschi / The Globe and Mail

Using AI to help people with epilepsy

Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder affecting all age groups. It is estimated that 300,000 Canadians suffer from the disorder which produces abnormal surges of electrical activity in the brain and, if left unchecked, seizures of varying shapes and severity.

Every day, 54 new cases are diagnosed. For the third of patients whose seizures are not controlled, the consequences can be disastrous.

“It has a high prevalence and around 30 to 35% of patients do not respond to antiepileptic therapy, which is the first line of treatment,” explains Élie Bou Assi, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Montreal and principal investigator. at the University of Montreal Hospital Center (CHUM).

Dr Bou Assi is part of the CHUM’s Epilepsy Research Group where he and Dr Dang Khoa Nguyen, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Epilepsy and Functional Anatomy of the Brain, lead one of the hundreds of teams. across the world using Hexoskin and other smart devices. , to monitor patients and detect seizures. This is seen as the first step towards developing algorithms that will generate alarms to alert caregivers.

Typically, monitoring for epilepsy is done using electroencephalography (EEG), in which electrodes are stuck to the skull.

“The problem is, it’s not portable and it’s not good for every day,” he says. “The advantage of using Hexoskin smart clothes is that they are comfortable compared to what we currently use. [Patients] wear it 24/7 and they can sleep in it.

The smart folders provide quality data and stable recordings, he says, and the next phase – once the AI ​​algorithms are developed – will be to monitor patients in their normal environment outside of the controlled setting of the ward. epilepsy monitoring.

“Our goal is to see if we can monitor other signals, namely the signals recorded by the Hexoskin – breathing, electrocardiography, therefore electrical activity and movement of the heart – to detect seizures,” explains Dr Bou Assi.

To date, researchers have recorded nearly 300 seizures among more than 60 patients.

The data collected using Hexoskin and other smart devices will help researchers develop an automated entry log that will support processing. For example, it will alert caregivers in the event of a debilitating seizure and could even possibly lead to predictive algorithms that would alert a patient of an upcoming episode.

“It’s a trail, I think, worth exploring,” he says.


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