Belfast firm Liopa receives funding for lipreading app during COVID crisis

  • Belfast-based medtech Liopa has successfully achieved funding from Innovate UK in its funding competition for business-led innovation in response to global disruption.

    The award is part of a £40m package from the UK government to bolster technology and research-focused companies who are working to build resilience during the Covid crisis.

    Liopa announced that it has received a “significant investment” for research and development for its SRAVI application – a communications aid for patients who cannot speak, such as those who have had a tracheostomy as a result of Covid complications.

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    Tracheostomies are breathing tubes placed below the level of the vocal cords, which consequently mean that patients cannot make a sound.

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    SRAVI provides automated lip reading in a mobile phone app, so people can communicate with healthcare workers, friends and family, if they cannot use their voice.

    SRAVI is being trialled in a pilot study with the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, led by consultant in Critical Care and Anaesthesia, Shondipon Laha.

    Dr Laha said: “Covid has created significantly more patients with tracheostomies. There is a great deal of interest, on a national scale, in the rehabilitation and long-term challenges of caring for Covid patients. Any communications aid, including SRAVI, is a badly needed lifeline for these patients.”

    Patients who have been tracheostomized because of being on ventilators will sometimes have the tracheostomy in place for up to four weeks, Dr Laha indicated: “For those patients, engaging with SRAVI to communicate may improve their outcomes.”

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    According to the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, from the beginning of lockdown until 26 June 2020;

    • There were 12,881 admissions to hospital for critical care from Covid (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
    • 60% of patients were mechanically ventilated within the first 24 hours (5,820 out of 9,694 patients)
    • Patients who remain on ventilators for longer than 10 days will typically require a tracheostomy
    • At least 1,200 Covid patients have been tracheostomised to date

    Dr Laha continued: “We can only resort to lipreading these patients, which is clearly frustrating for patients, their medical care team, and their families. Liopa has worked with us to develop the SRAVI app which uses machine learning to analyse a person's lip movements and display the phrase on the screen.”

    Liam McQuillan, CEO of Liopa added: “The further funding award from Innovate UK will make it possible for us to widen the scope of our R&D efforts for SRAVI. Eventually it will mean we can roll SRAVI out to more types of patients, such as those who have suffered paralysis or strokes. We are dedicated to helping bring a voice to the voiceless.”

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    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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