Professor Stephen Perry: Established in January 2021, this research unit is based on the cross-fertilization of knowledge and focuses on finding synergies between technologies developed in the field of new technologies and digital technologies of IMT Mines Alès – Center for Education and Research in Computing. Science and Systems – and those relating to health and sport, from the Unit of Education and Research (UFR) in Science and Technology of Physical and Sports Activities (STAPS) of the University of Montpellier. This is a fact that is probably unknown, but UFR STAPS are quite active in the field of scientific research. It is not surprising that the main object of their study is human movement. Moreover, this is the goal of the Human Movement Sciences doctoral school, which seeks to capture this movement with various devices in order to study its physiological, psychological, biomechanical, cognitive and neurological determinants.
Why this merger with IMT Alès?
Apart from political considerations (the University of Montpellier and the MMT are under two different ministries), the aim pursued is purely scientific. Our teams have been exchanging data for several years now and have developed numerous collaborations, notably through co-managing doctoral students. We wanted to go further and carry out a common project in order to use our respective know-how for the benefit of the study of movement and health. As such, the EuroMov Digital Health in Motion research arm has been built on three main scientific pillars: data, human movement and health. Everything is interconnected and part of the cross-fertilization approach. In this way, we have been able to create interdisciplinary projects whose aim is to strive for interdisciplinarity, in particular to create new concepts and new objects of study. And this is exactly what became possible thanks to the complementarity of our knowledge and our approaches.
Where does health fit into your research?
Health, whether it be treatment, rehabilitation or “preventive” sports, is a large part of our activities. The very name of this new research unit testifies to this: EuroMov Digital Health in Motion. However, we have limited the scope of movement research to three main subjects: Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and schizophrenia. We are working here to rehabilitate these patients and treat their disorders through movement. Naturally, all this is done in close cooperation with local health authorities. Our work with strokes, for example, is carried out within the framework of a collaboration that began 15 years ago with the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of the University Hospitals of Nimes and Montpellier.
How are your searches performing?
As with any research division, we develop projects internally or respond to national, regional or local project requests. In this case, each approach differs depending on the context and subject to be treated. If we take, for example, a person who has suffered a stroke, then we will study as accurately as possible the degree of recovery of this person, in addition to clinical indicators. We are not doctors, but we can contribute to the creation of new methods of retraining. To sum up, we aim to introduce a new metric that can lead to the development of new forms of therapy to speed up the healing process. The possibilities being explored are numerous: serious games, the use of brain stimulation paradigms, etc. Each time, we first test on pilot groups of healthy people. But even outside of these control groups, we are still testing approaches in healthy adults.
You mentioned new technologies earlier. What role do they play in your research?
The integration of new technologies can be done in two ways: using software solutions for decision support or the Internet of things. This last field allows us to have access to new training tools for practice or rehabilitation. As far as the software aspect is concerned, partnerships with the IMT teams come into full play here. We benefit from their skills in data analysis and processing, in particular with the help of artificial intelligence systems. You should be aware that in the course of our research, we measure many parameters, resulting in a significant amount of data. Our colleagues at IMT know how to evaluate and analyze them in depth, and give these datasets new meaning with the help of artificial intelligence methods. Using deep learning methods, deep learningfor example, we can use brain signals, which is especially useful for better understanding brain plasticity and in the end allow dialogue with people with brain damage.
The research arm of EuroMov Digital Health in Motion also welcomes start-ups. Why ?
The development of relationships with the private sector allows us to advance our work while supporting the development of new companies both at the Montpellier site and at the Ales site. Thus, we have set ourselves the goal that at least one third of our work is a possible technological transfer to the industrial environment. This can be from pure IT systems to sensors, connected objects, etc. One of the incubated startups aims, for example, at developing exercise appropriate for people with diabetes, using connected AI tools and methods to provide optimal monitoring. This type of project makes our work more concrete. These startups are also an additional source of funding and attract students who want to work in the private sector. These direct links to the business world are also beneficial to all students and facilitate their professional integration. Everyone wins: researchers, companies and, more broadly, the healthcare world.
An article published in the May 2022 issue of Hospitalia can be read here.