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19th May 2017

From psychologist to medtech pioneer

Spanish neuropsychologist Gema Climent was instantly drawn to virtual reality tools for evaluating patients after years of observing “paper and pencil tests that were not comparable to the problems people had in real life”.

The finalist in the European Commission’s 2017 EU Prize for Women Innovators has worked on driving much needed change in the field since 2008, when she was offered an opportunity to lead an innovative project for improving evaluation processes using virtual reality tools, making them more objective, accurate and faster than the traditional methods. “I think I was immediately attracted by the revolution it was,” she tells This Is Medtech.

“With a prehistoric technology compared to what we have now, we devised and made the first standardised systems in the world for the evaluation of cognitive functions with virtual reality,” she explains. “We created an environment, similar to the real one, but where we could measure what people cerebrally process, with the aim of making any professional able to use it wherever he/she is, and with the same conditions of evaluation of the patient, obtaining objectively comparable results.”

Over a decade later, the company that Gema founded offers a number of virtual reality tools, including tests for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), evaluation of executive function in adult populations and neuropsychological assessment of all memory processes. The tests are unique in that they combine neuroscience and virtual reality with clinically validated evidence.

Conventional diagnosis of cognitive disorders requires the combination of six to 12 traditional tests and takes the evaluator four hours on average. With these tests, “the evaluator only needs a 20-minute test to do a better job with a greater ecological validity, which means that it’s more comparable to the problems that the person suffers in his/her daily life,” Gema says.

The company has also designed a virtual reality tool to support people with anxiety and stress and a mobile and tablet app to help people with autism communicate better. In addition, it has created a video game with guides for children, parents and teachers involved in bullying situations, as well as guides to prevent it happening in the first place.

Although Gema makes it all look so easy, getting this far hasn’t been without its challenges. “You live in change and uncertainty,” she notes, adding that “you can tolerate the uncertainty more than you think…you can learn continuously.” However, the most difficult thing for her has been to open the eyes of those reluctant to change and to get people to view this innovation as the new standard. “We have already convinced people that this is better, but the innovation curve is slow and the market is wide,” comments Gema.

As for being a woman in not just one but two male-dominated disciplines (i.e. neuropsychology and technology), Gema hasn’t experienced prejudice, however she’s keenly aware that women are in the minority. She believes that EU-funded research programmes like Horizon 2020 ‒ which funds her work ‒ are critical for enabling entrepreneurial women to gain more visibility in the market but also for supporting young women who need role models.

In Spain there are many female entrepreneurs, but Gema has been most inspired by Gertrudis de la Fuente, a leader in biochemistry. “She was also a pioneer in defending the freedom of women, and above all, their talent and value in the academic and scientific field,” Gema points out. Paraphrasing Gertrudis, she adds: “People are made to solve all possible problems.”

Gema lives by these words as she continues to carve out her own path. “Although sometimes we see bumps along the way, I think these last decades we are solving many things, and if we continue working on that, we will also solve inequality, we will improve human relations and we will assume the creation of a better future.”