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At the age of 73, Wolf-Henning Knoblauch from Walldorf, Germany, suffered a stroke. A computer algorithm helped to swiftly make the right diagnosis and thus limit severe aftereffects.

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A question of time

Wolf-Henning Knoblauch was fortunate in misfortune – his stroke was recognised quickly enough, analysed and successfully treated without delay. He thus gained the opportunity to fight his way back into a healthy and active life. Together with the European Stroke Organisation, Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to ensuring that as many patients as possible benefit from such optimal treatment in future. The self-learning software of the medical technology start-up and Boehringer Ingelheim partner Brainomix helps doctors to rapidly assess the nature and extent of brain damage and to select the right therapy.

Faster and better treatment is the key to combating one of the most lethal diseases in Europe: stroke. Disturbance of the flow of blood to the brain is the second most frequent cause of death and the most frequent cause of permanent disability in adults. But the risk can be reduced very considerably if stroke patients are treated quickly enough.

If the supply of blood to the brain is interrupted, around 1.9 million nerve cells will die every minute. This destructive process can be halted by means of medicines and special treatment methods. Specially trained physicians in stroke centres therefore perform a CT scan of the brain as quickly as possible. The goal is for the right treatment to begin no later than four hours after the stroke, on the basis of the information gained from the tomography of the brain.

The problem is that there are not many specialised stroke centres and experienced neurologists that can evaluate brain scans. Physicians frequently take too long to decide – often because they need to obtain a second opinion from more experienced colleagues.

The medical software company Brainomix therefore aims to provide every physician with a digital stroke expert as an assistant. Self-learning software, i.e. artificial intelligence, evaluates CT scans.

E-Aspects in stroke treatment

This digital assistant sends its diagnosis directly to physicians’ smartphones in just a few minutes after the completion of the CT scan: an “e-ASPECTS” score indicates the severity of the stroke, while colour markings on the attached images pinpoint the affected region of the brain. “The key advantage of our software is that it does not rely on past experience and previous medical findings alone but rather adds to its learning with each new stroke patient,” explains Michael Papadakis, CEO of Brainomix. “So the more physicians and hospitals use our software, the better its assessments will be.” New patients will thus very rapidly benefit from new findings in relation to treatment methods and their outcomes.

Brainomix’s algorithm is already being used in clinics and stroke centres in many European countries. “Innovative start-ups such as Brainomix, which develop intelligent, digital tools for physicians and patients, are important and exciting partners for Boehringer Ingelheim,” says Dr Frank Kalkbrenner, Managing Director of the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. The venture capital fund invested in this British start-up in early 2018. Kalkbrenner adds: “Digital tools help us to establish holistic, integrated disease management programmes – and thus to offer patients the best possible care.”

Wolf-Henning Knoblauch today lives an active life visiting friends, driving his car and seeing his children and grandchildren together with his wife.