- an interview with Dr. Eric Hanke, hand surgeon at the University Hospital Mainz, about potential development in after-treatment of hand injuries
The team is sitting in the conference room, the mobile phone is set to record, still mineral water splashes into the glasses. It rings. Dr. Hanke has arrived - bicycle shoes, checked shorts, a helmet in his hands. "Cool, now I am finally with you in Mainz!”
After a short guided tour through the new offices with coffee, we get into to conference room. "But first, I have to tell you something" - Dr. Hanke talks about his latest experiences at the university hospital and recommends culinary teambuilding events for the next company excursion.
The interview starts with the collaboration’s beginnings: "In 2014 I received an e-mail from Pascal, he wanted to show me his robot hand and make a prosthesis out of it". However, Dr. Hanke sees a more important medical need in therapy instead of the development of a new prothesis.
"We have very few amputation injuries in Germany, they are more common in war zones. But here in Mainz I see completely different needs in my consulting hours. There is a huge lack of follow-up treatment. Yesterday after an operation an assistant doctor said: 'Now we would need something that constantly moves this hand'. Follow-up treatment is elementary. The best operation is useless, if the after-treatment is not sufficient because of overloaded therapists.”
There is a lack of Man Power - there are not enough physiotherapists for the patients. Apart from that, it is particularly difficult for older and less mobile patients to come to their therapy. "This is where I see the potential of AnyHand."
Since the hand executes very complex movements and has many joints in a small space, the construction of a therapy device is complicated. For this reason, there is no product on the market that guides the joint axes of the fingers in a natural movement. Since the AnyHand works electromechanically, it is possible to move it corresponding to the fine movements of our hand. In addition: "The device is portable which makes it more suitable for everyday use. The AnyHand is small and filigree, so it can be used anywhere and by anyone".
A short break for the second coffee. "Some days are so stressful that I don't have time to eat..." A chocolate bar is the first remedy, even if Dr. Hanke is more interested in something hearty.
The stories straight out of the operation theatre which Dr. Hanke had already told us at the beginning of the conversation are elementary for the cooperation with the founders: "I see the gaps in hand therapy in my everyday business. One patient had strong adhesions in his finger joint after a fracture, so that bending was no longer possible. After a long consideration, I decided to do a second operation because he is young. Even during the operation I was able to show the patient how well the finger can be moved again. Today, six weeks later, he came to my consultation - the finger is stiff again. I am convinced that we would have had more success with a device for home use. I tell such stories and Pascal and Dominic can tell me what can be done this way or that or not at all. That's how our communication works. They ask good questions and I think it's an advantage that they don't have any medical background. They break new grounds that others dismiss as impossible. These are sometimes wrong paths, but they are also constantly discovering new possibilities." The next day he is supposed to treat the hand of an injured motorcyclist with artificial joints. It is a great achievement to have this medical methods today. "But the subsequent training with an electromechanical orthosis is still a dream of the future. And that's exactly what motivates these two."
Surgery always involves risks for the patient, such as infections or complications during anaesthesia. Before and after the operation, the doctor and physiotherapist spend a lot of time and effort to achieve a good result. But training at home is such a big gap that the outcome is often unsatisfactory. The patient and the therapist must be in contact outside the practice, too, in order to intensify the exercises and maintain the progress. AnyHand should not only make the therapy more suitable for everyday use, but also more motivating. The connected app gives playful incentives and shows the patient, for example, what range of movement is possible with good training. Since the device constantly collects data from the exercises, which can be seen by the supervising physiotherapist, the treatment can be individually adapted. "A device for the general public, but still very individual - we can't go into this only with Man Power."
Technology makes it possible - but it doesn't work in all areas. "In Frankfurt, a robot was used for hip surgery. But the surgery time was longer, the result was no better and there were technical complications. That's why I consider more development potential for surgery in terms of materials and their application. That’s why it's important to have inventive talent! Do we have to operate on everything at all? Who knows, maybe we can use an intelligent, well-fitting orthosis to replace a lot of surgeries."
Next, we ask Dr. Hanke to tell us about his career. He smiles. "About the person? Well, I'm a hand surgeon." It's the fun of reconstruction - so after his time as a civilian in the ambulance service, he soon knew that his medical career had to go through accident surgery. After his studies, he spent his practical year in Brazil and was then accepted at the Hanover Medical School. His doctorate in Berlin initially dealt with hip prostheses, but his fascination was with hands. After completing his general surgery training in Mainz, he became an accident surgeon and finally a hand surgeon. "If I get to operate on a hip between all those hands, this is a welcome change from magnifying glasses and precision mechanics.” What motivated you to take such a long training path? "Fun is the drive." The challenges from trauma surgery, the filigree manual work (in a literal sense) and the constant progress in medicine, which he also experiences at LIME - this is how Dr. Hanke survives many long days in the hospital.
The conversation ends almost philosophically and with a cross-reference to Leonardo da Vinci as a universal genius. "If you don't start to run, to take new paths, you don't even need to look ahead in life. Just get started. Right?”