Lymphoedema is the swelling of soft tissues, caused by the accumulation of protein-rich fluid in extracellular space. It occurs as a result of disruption to the lymphatic system, usually of one or more limbs. Approximately 140-250 million people worldwide are currently suffering from different types of lymphoedema and it was estimated that 365,000 are affected by lymphoedema each year in the U.K alone. There is no cure for this chronic condition however there are treatments designed to reduce related pain and discomfort.
The current recommended treatment is decongestive lymphatic therapy. This combines manual lymph drainage massage techniques with compressive bandaging, skin care and decongestive exercises. Once these therapy sessions are stopped the patient is fitted with a custom-made compression garment, which is worn every day. Unfortunately, this solution causes several issues for the patient, such as 1) the size and appearance of compression garments makes them inconvenient; 2) compression treatments interfered with work and daily activities; 3) compression effectiveness is highly variable as the operating pressure is impacted by washing and wear.
There is therefore a need for an effective, unobtrusive, easy-to-use, device for treating lymphoedema that can be used at home. In response, this PhD project will develop a smart medical textile garment (SMTG) designed to be effective and improve the quality of life of patients. The SMTG will use electrical stimulation (ES) in an unobtrusive and convenient wearable format to enable swelling reduction.
To achieve this aim, the project has several key objectives. Firstly, you will need to develop new printed circuits with increased flexibility and reliability. Secondly, the layout of the electrode pair positions in the garment needs to be refined. The influence of positioning, dimensions and number of electrodes therefore needs to be understood in order to generate a design rule that can be adapted for different patients. Thirdly, a new set of stimulation parameters for an array of printed electrodes will need to be developed. Fourthly, you will develop an integration method to connect printed electrodes to the stimulation circuit. The printed electrodes are currently connected using snap fasteners. This option provides a temporary solution and cracks often happens at the join between the fastener and printed tracks. Finally, you will evaluate the washability of SMTG and propose an optimised standard that would allow the electronic textiles to be washed safely.
- Dr Yang Wei, DoS, Department of Engineering, [Email Address Removed]. The PhD project is underpinned by the early work of Dr Wei who will provide both technical and supervision inputs to this project.
- Prof John Hunt, Co-Supervisor, Medical Technology Innovation Facility, [Email Address Removed]. Prof Hunt will provide input to the area of biology of lymphoedema which is complementary to Dr Wei.
- Prof Christine Moffatt, Co-Supervisor, Skin Integrity Department, Nottingham University Hospital, [Email Address Removed]. Prof Moffatt is one of world leaders in lymphoedema in which her experience in last 20 years will significantly benefit to this project. She will provide dermatologic knowledge to this project.