New ways for diabetics: Intelligent soles from Saxony-Anhalt measure pressure and temperature

Magdeburg-based “Thorsis Technologies” is using sensor technology as a basis for intelligent e-health solutions

Smart soles as emergency aid for diabetics

It looks inconspicuous as it lies on the table. The managing director of Thorsis Technologies GmbH, Thorsten Szczepanski, takes a sole in his hand and quickly demonstrates that there is more to it than meets the eye. “This sole can make life easier for diabetics and given them back their quality of life.” Because this sole is “smart”. It continually measures pressure and temperature distribution in the foot, helping to recognize incorrect weight bearing and warn the wearer. The idea of measuring what is wrong using a shoe insert is not a new one, and yet the Magdeburg-based company has introduced something new by combining pressure and temperature measurements. Like a conventional sole, Thorsis’ sole is designed as a three-layer-system with a sole core, soft cushioning and protective coating. The intelligence is concealed in the middle: In a thin layer with textile pressure sensors, which can be easily affixed – by the manufacturer or by orthopaedic shoemakers. The smart electronic solution is currently being produced directly within the company. The core is also processed here. Layer by layer, emergency aid for diabetics is created.

Point solution for a major demand field

The number of patients is testament to the fact that the need for such solutions exists. More than a million people in Germany alone have to live with the diagnosis of polyneuropathy, suffering from paraesthesia, such as tingling or burning in the feet, and sensibility disorders. This means they only feel contact, temperature or pain in a reduced capacity, or not at all. This poor perception of pathological changes to the feet and the higher probability of circulatory problems frequently lead to amputations. There are lots of pathologies in people suffering from diabetes. These are summarized under the term “diabetic foot syndrome”. They all have one thing in common – they can trigger complications and are an extreme burden if they are treated too late or inaccurately. The first manufactured and used sole inserts show: They work perfectly and simply.

Because if patients are warned, they can make changes themselves in good time, for example by shifting their loadbearing. “In turn, this increases self-regulation,” explains Fred Samland, head of the Medical Engineering department at Thorsis. And this is precisely one of the medical objectives of this innovation from Saxony-Anhalt. A professor from the University Hospital Magdeburg approached the team with the idea. He wanted to calculate inflammations and incorrect weight bearing by measuring the temperature. What he lacked was a company that could provide the technical solution, immerse itself in the problem and implement the research results practically. Thorsten Szczepanski was able to “mentally tick” all these points.

The first steps for the Internet of Things

The Magdeburg-based company has years of scientific, technical and practical experience to rely on. This history of Thorsis began under the new name just a year ago, but the foundations of the company were laid 20 years ago as “ifak system GmbH”. As a partner of the not-for-profit Institut für Automation und Kommunikation ifak in Magdeburg, the company supported countless projects and products. “This was a very important part of our corporate history,” says the managing director of Thorsis. When the focuses of the two partners moved apart, “it was logical for each to break new ground,” says Szczepanski. “Thorsis” was born – interestingly, this is an artificial name with the intention of being understood in any language. Because here in Magdeburg, there are no limits to the thinking of the 35 employees, primarily qualified specialists from the region – both in terms of research and application and when it comes to capturing new markets, initially in Central Europe, and then perhaps further away. The development of the sole has since become so advanced that, from October, about 150 patients will test the clinical effect – in a study as part of the “Autonomy in Old Age” research association of the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The managing director is sure that this will be another important step towards greater quantities of the soles being produced.

Technological leap in health IT

When it’s time, Thorsis already has the right sales partners by its side. As an established company, Thorsis has developed a good reputation and is also considered a pioneer in research and development. “We continue to have a user-oriented institution by our side in the form of the Fraunhofer Institute. We work with the Otto-von-Guericke University and our collaboration with the Technology Campus and the University Hospital also works very well,” says the managing director. Thorsis is also active in many business divisions, has a wide portfolio and a large network. Thorsten Szczepanski says, “We have a good opportunity here to continually gain a technical advance.” This includes fitting the intelligent soles with components and solutions to make them even more “clever”. Not only can they take measurements, they can also store and transmit information. Various user terminals, for example smartphones, can be coupled together using a diagnosis app. Results are transmitted by Bluetooth. The data is saved and can be inputted on request. “This makes more in-depth evaluation of the condition possible,” says Fred Samland. “Ultimately, this helps the doctor or therapist to provide targeted support.”

Good starting point for future potentials

Specialists, scientists and clinics have already registered interest in these possibilities or offered support in its further development. “Such networks are part of the reason that we are able to do such targeted work in medical engineering in Saxony-Anhalt,” says Szczepanski. He can imagine that Thorsis will grow in the near future. “And exactly here in this location, where we are ideally embedded into the research landscape and where the distribution networks are developed.” The “smart” soles for diabetics could contribute to the successful expansion of the business. Because – even if you don’t see it at first sight – there is potential for other products in them. The managing director explains, “Many variations for different areas could be created yet. Their use in the rehabilitation of stroke patients is just one of the many possibilities.”

Autor: Manuela Bock

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