E-textiles funding boost to relieve the pain of people living with arthritis
The pain of millions of people living with arthritis in the UK could be eased through new e-textile technologies being developed within Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton.
Dr Kai Yang, a Principal Research Fellow in the Smart Electronic Materials and Systems (SEMS) research group, has been awarded a £600,000 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Fellowship to expand practical research that could help mitigate the pain generated by the common healthcare condition.
Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of pain and disability that affects people’s independence and quality of life, and represents a massive burden on NHS resources. The number of people with osteoarthritis-affected knees is estimated to increase from 4.7 million in 2010, to 6.5 million by 2020, and 8.3 million by 2035, due to the UK’s ageing population.
Kai’s research is exploring the use of e-textile technology as a therapeutic application enabling self-management of healthcare conditions to help people feel better and live longer.
She says, “The Fellowship will allow me to build on my previous research into developing cutting-edge electronic textiles for wearable therapeutics, where dry electrodes printed on everyday clothing fabric can deliver a small electrical current to interfere with the pain signals and stimulate the release of the body’s natural endorphins easing the pain.
“People who are in severe pain are less mobile and this technology could enable them to become more independent, engage in more activities and experience better health for longer. Wearable e-textiles will provide a comfortable to wear, easy to use and cost-effective solution to end-users.”
The three-year Fellowship will see Kai expand her team, and widen collaboration with industry, clinicians and - most importantly to her - the end-user.
“All of my research is driven by the end-user,” she says. “I focus on what they need and that governs the direction of my research. The biggest impact for research is to make it useful for the individual. It doesn’t matter how clever the technology is if the end-user doesn’t like it or can’t use it.”
The Fellowship is underpinned by two existing projects in the SEMS group. The Medical Research Council (MRC) SMARTmove project Kai is also leading has developed the printed electrodes for healthcare applications. The EPSRC-funded FETT project, led by Professor Steve Beeby, has identified manufacturing and packaging processes that enable circuits to be reliably and invisibly incorporated in textiles. Kai’s Fellowship will combine these technologies, demonstrating a complete e-textile wearable solution targeted initially at pain relief but with potential for many other healthcare and medical related applications.
Kai’s research is also being supported by FortisNet – an interdisciplinary hub of expertise in regenerative medicine, orthopaedics, prosthetics and assistive technologies launched by the University’s Institute for Life Sciences.