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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S026096/1
Title: FREEHAB: accessible, comfortable and adaptable wearable rehabilitation and assist devices
Principal Investigator: Rossiter, Professor JM
Other Investigators:
Turton, Dr A Cramp, Dr M C
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Designability Domaille Neurophysio North Bristol NHS Trust
Open Bionics Virgin Care
Department: Engineering Mathematics and Technology
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2019 Ends: 31 October 2024 Value (£): 1,181,154
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biomechanics & Rehabilitation
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Healthcare R&D
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
05 Feb 2019 Healthcare Impact Partnership February 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
There are over 10.8 million disabled people living in the UK today. Nearly 6.5 million have mobility impairments. These numbers are growing as the median population age increases and age-related mobility issues due to musculoskeletal and neurological conditions such as arthritis and stroke, become more prevalent. Rehabilitation helps people improve and maintain their abilities in everyday life, but currently patient outcomes are hampered in two ways: Firstly, there is a lack of easy to use dynamic tools to help therapists to accurately analyse their patients' gait and mobility performance and devise the most effective personalised training and rehabilitation programmes. Secondly, as more and more rehabilitation occurs at home and requires patients to practice in the absence of a therapist, better ways to support in-home mobility and training are needed, to enable patients to achieve their potential in everyday mobility tasks.

The FREEHAB Healthcare Impact Partnership will develop soft wearable rehabilitative devices to directly address these needs. FREEHAB will build on discoveries from our previous EPSRC Right Trousers project in which we discovered new soft materials that can be used like artificial muscles. These include 3D printable electroactive gel materials and soft, but strong, pneumatic chains that change they shape when inflated and can exert considerable forces. These materials will be used to develop devices to help people to walk, stand and to move from sitting to standing. Together with integrated sensing technology we will make devices that physiotherapists can use to accurately pinpoint limitations in their patients' movements, thus enabling them to plan personalised training programmes. We will also make simpler devices that the patient can use to enhance their mobility activities and exercises with confidence when a therapist is not with them.

To do this we will work in partnership with physiotherapists in NHS services and in private practice, with people who have personally experienced physiotherapy for their mobility problems, and with business partners who are experienced in bringing rehabilitation and assistive technology devices through from concept to market. We will initially determine what patient and clinical considerations we need to take into account to design and develop the devices. We will continually consult with partners for their ideas and opinions as the devices are developed. We will plan how FREEHAB technologies will progress from research and development through translation into clinical trials, and to bring the devices into the supply chain after the project is over. This will be undertaken with advice from our clinical and business partners and with regard to regulation of devices for use in the NHS and intellectual property for commercialisation.

When we have designed and manufactured our prototype devices we will test them to determine how physiotherapists find them useful for assessment and how patients find them comfortable and useful for carrying out their physiotherapy training and rehabilitation. We will collect their views alongside formal measurements of patients' performance when they are wearing the devices compared to their performance when using a conventional orthotic brace. We will ensure we have the right regulatory and ethical approval for this early proof of concept testing. The results of our evaluations will help us to prepare for the next stages in product development and clinical testing needed to bring the devices into use in the NHS.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk