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Toronto's Progressive Rehabilitation

An Interview with Dr. Milos R. Popovic, a Leader of RehabWeek

— October 18, 2019 — Business
Dr. Milos R. Popovic is the director of The KITE Research Institute (Knowledge, Innovation, Talent, Everywhere), which is the research arm of the ‘Toronto Rehabilitation Institute -- University Health Network.’ He is also a professor at the University of Toronto and a Senior Scientist at KITE. This year, Dr. Popovic brought the international RehabWeek event to Toronto with the help of the Leaders Circle and Business Events Toronto.

He has done incredible work in the industry and one of his current projects is the Grant Project awarded to him by The Leaders Circle. The “Treatment of Depression using Non-invasive Electrical Stimulation” Project’s purpose is to find new ways to refine therapy for patients that have treatment-resistant depression.

We talked to Dr. Popovic about the impact of RehabWeek taking place in Toronto this year, its lasting legacies, his role as a local leader, the Grant Project, and what he envisions for the future of rehabilitation.

What is RehabWeek and what is the significance of it taking place in Toronto this year?
RehabWeek is composed of a number of associations in the rehabilitation technology space, who came together to create a conference where they can discuss and recommend technologies in rehabilitation and enable progress in the field. The conference was formed in 2011. The first meeting was in Switzerland, where these societies came together presenting robotic, electrical stimulation and virtual reality. What started with 400 people meeting in 2011 has now evolved to 1,500 people, and we had six societies that came together to take part in it. What is exciting about the meeting is you get the latest and greatest in technologies that can be used to help rehabilitate people after a stroke, spinal cord injury, disease, aging and accidents they may have. And it dictates the future of what you're going to see in the hospitals in 5, 10, 50 years from now.

What are the impacts of RehabWeek and what are its lasting legacies?
The fundamental thing that people really grasp is that aging is going to totally overwhelm our society and industry. And 1,000 people in Canada alone retire daily. So, what we are heading to is a situation in which there's going to be so many people who need care, need support and these will not be able to provide it because we will not have enough family members and caregivers to assist. So, knowledge is the only way in which we can help these people live independent lives at home and in different institutional settings. And this conference is a venue in which this technology is now presented, discussed, and new ideas for new technologies and new solutions are brought about.

What contributions did The Leaders Circle and Business Events Toronto have with RehabWeek, and was there anyone else involved with the making of the event?
The Leaders Circle was essential for us because they connected us to the Tourism Toronto, Tourism Ontario and various hotels. We landed into a very well-oiled machine that can take people like me who are naive in this business and guide them. That was essential, that's where The Leaders Circle helped us and played a critical role. The delegates really enjoyed it, the feedback was amazing, the town is great, so many beautiful things to do. Each person had a different story. Because they have different interests, but it was through The Leaders Circle that we had guidance on what you should offer people.

Can you tell us a bit about your treatment of depression using non-invasive electric stimulation, and what was the purpose of the project? What are the expected results?
The paper is currently under review. One of the very unusual projects that I've been doing is that, by stimulating the facial muscles of a person, you can change their emotional status. So essentially if you take someone who has a severe mood disorder, you can, by literally forcing them to smile, change their mood. We then started working with patients and we were tight on cash. This is where the Leaders Circle came through. They gave us a grant and we took that grant to treat 10 patients and collect data and prepare the paper. What is interesting is every single patient who received the therapy saw improvement and the improvement was seemingly meaningful, which means that you might be able to treat depression, with non-invasive technology, no medication, and no side effects. The data is preliminary, so we should not get too excited about it. But we are very, very happy about it and grateful to The Leaders Circle for supporting us.

What does it mean to you to be like a local leader who is recognized or playing such a key role in bringing RehabWeek to Toronto?
I mean, I'm very proud that my institution, KITE, which is a research institute at Toronto Rehab, was able to bring people from all over the world to come to Toronto to attend this meeting. By doing this, it demonstrated that we are one of the strongest rehab voices in the world. People came and enjoyed being in Toronto, and everybody who left was extremely positive about science, about our institute. Many students who came to the conference said they wanted to apply to immigrate to Canada. That was interesting. Very interesting because essentially what we’re doing is creating an institute for the best and brightest people in our field. This is truly awesome.

At this pace of research and growth, what do you envision for your industry in the next 10 years?
I think 10 years from now, you will read every day in the news, something about recommendations about therapies, about treatment, about aging and other ways to help the healthcare system with this ridiculous change in demography. The fact is that everybody ages. Many people have issues with dementia. Many people have a stroke, those parts of the population that have diabetes is just exploding. So, in the future, we will see hospitals and other areas of the healthcare system just explode in the next five to 10 years because of the demand. Many people are not aware of it because they don't think about it, that's not in their frontal view, but that's coming very fast.

Is there anything you'd like to share with our readers that we didn't get covered in the interview?
I think readers should know that Toronto is leading in the world in the rehabilitation space. We work very closely with our academic partners at the University of Toronto in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, physiatry, and many other disciplines. People talk about Princess Margaret as being one of the top institutions in the country, which is wonderful and we're very proud of our colleagues. But we're the best in the world, the whole spectrum, in rehabilitation. The best and the brightest in the entire world come to Toronto to work in this field. From a global point of view, we are poised to literally dominate in this space for years to come.
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