Page 8 - Innovation at UCT

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Dr George Vicatos (left) with Alan Duggan of
receiving the Inventor of the Year Award.
The Vicatos-Hendricks distractor (above) being tested on
a 3D cast ahead of installation on a patient.
Dr George Vicatos, a mechanical engineer, with
co-inventors Dr Rushdi Hendricks and MSc student
James Boonzaier have already made a remarkable and
significant impact on the lives of two patients with their
Maxillofacial Distractor. Dr Vicatos was named Inventor of
the Year by
Popular Mechanics
in its inaugural recognition
of South African inventors. The team also won an award in
the Cutting Edge category. In further recognition of their
invention, the team, represented by Dr Hendricks, was a
finalist in the NSTF-BHP Billiton 2011/12 Awards.
The Maxillofacial Distractor device is particularly
beneficial in cases where bone has had to be removed
due to cancer in a patient. The process of Transport
Distraction Osteogenesis (TDO) has developed as a
novel way of reproducing new bone and soft tissue. This
process involves moving two bone ends gradually apart
(distraction), allowing new bone to form in the tiny gap and
to grow together with the surrounding soft tissues. While
devices have existed for the lower jaw (mandible) prior to
this invention, none exists that is capable of dealing with
the demands of the upper jaw in terms of the complex
anatomical constraints.
Dr Lebogang Ramma (Health and Rehabilitation
Sciences), and Samuel Ginsberg (Electrical Engineering)
have developed a hearing aid that is suitable for use in
the South African public health sector. The device is built
using available components, but through smart design
and innovative software it outperforms existing alternatives
in terms of both function and cost. Software and a simple
button selector on the hearing aid casing enable the user
to switch between four options to optimally cope with
different sound environments.
A fortuitous development emerged through collaboration
with GeoAxon (Pty) Ltd whose Kuduwave Audiometer is
used for remote hearing testing. The Kuduwave enables
an audiologist based in a main centre to interact via the
internet with trained technicians deployed in the field
to diagnose hearing loss in patients living in remote
rural areas. The challenge, however, was how to fit the
appropriate hearing aid after diagnosis – a task normally
performed by an audiologist. Almost at the point of
GeoAxon (Pty) Ltd starting to develop a complementary
hearing aid, serendipitous timing meant that the UCT
device could be developed and adapted to interface
with the GeoAxon Kuduwave, allowing the hearing aid
to be programmed remotely over the internet to meet
patients’ needs.
The device is currently undergoing trials at both local
and remote test centres, supported by UCT’s pre-
seed funding. “GeoAxon is already conducting remote
audiometry in South Africa and in neighbouring African
countries, with intentions of expanding its reach further,
says Dr Andrew Bailey, UCT’s Intellectual Property
Manager. “If proven to be successful, this device will
most probably become an integral part of GeoAxon’s
service package.”
The UCT inventors have a host of other ideas around
hearing aid development that they will pursue once
this model has entered the market. While much of the
IP protection to date has been reliant on copyright, it
is anticipated that patenting opportunities will arise
through the new developments. These ideas will have a
significant impact on user experience and maintenance
in a low-income environment.