Lymphoedema is a chronic condition caused by fluid collecting in the soft tissue of the body. Affecting up to 250m people globally, it usually manifests in in the arms or legs, causing swelling and discomfort, and has no proven cure or pharmaceutical treatment.
According to the Nottingham Trent engineers, the new device will be manufactured using a highly breathable fabric with integrated and flexible printed circuits and electrodes. Durable, washable and adapted to fit different patients, the sleeve will increase circulation of the lymphatic system, which is the network of channels and glands that remove excess fluid in the body. It is being created in partnership with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and £450,000 in EPSRC funding.
“In the UK alone more than 200,000 people are affected by lymphoedema each year,” said researcher Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.
“While there are some treatments to reduce pain and discomfort, their long-term effectiveness in treating the problem rather than addressing a symptom is uncertain. There is a need for an effective device in a convenient and wearable format that can be used by patients in the home to improve their quality of life.
“This will be a breakthrough smart medical textile garment which will be effective, unobtrusive and easy-to-use, stimulating lymph circulation and significantly improving the treatment of patients with lymphoedema.”
The current recommended treatment for lymphoedema combines specialist massage and compressive bandaging, skin care and decongestive exercises, which the researchers said are intensive and impact patient autonomy. Worn daily, compression garments are commonly prescribed for patients to reduce swelling in the arm, but the researchers said they can be inconvenient and a hindrance to patients and that their effectiveness can be variable.
A recent study found that 80 per cent of participants felt that compression treatments interfered with their work and daily activities due to limited physical movement and that there was difficulty finding clothing that would fit over the compression. Effectiveness also varied as it was impacted by washing and wear and as such patients regularly had to visit healthcare providers to monitor the garments, placing a further burden on them and the NHS.
The project will initially develop technology for the arm before being adapted for other parts of the body such as leg, chest, face and neck. Alongside Nottingham Trent and the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, the research also involves industry partners Electra Polymers Ltd, Haddenham Healthcare Ltd and medi GmbH.